Chinese Red Envelopes (红包 hóng bāo Lucky Money)

Chinese Red Envelopes (红包 hóng bāo Lucky Money)

Lucky money originated from the ancient “copper cash" (round coins with a square hole which were made mostly of copper) which some people in those days used for creating and preaching sorcery. Over many years of development, lucky money has become money wrapped in the red envelopes. But its symbol of love and blessing has never changed.

What is Red Envelope Called in Chinese?

In Chinese culture, a red envelope is called "hongbao" (红包 | 紅包 hóng bāo) in Mandarin or "lilai see" (利是 lai6 si6) in Cantonese. It is a traditional gift often presented during festivals or special occasions, such as Chinese New Year or weddings.

During the Chinese New Year, red envelopes are also referred to as "ya sui qian," (压岁钱 | 壓歲錢 yā suì qián) which translates to "lucky money" or "New Year's money."

Why do the Chinese give red envelopes: the Origin of Red Envelopes


The origins of red envelopes can be traced back to ancient yearly rituals and exorcisms. In ancient times, people believed that the color red had the power to repel evil and prevent disasters and epidemics. Therefore, they would wrap coins in red cloth, hang them on their doors, or wear them to pray for safety and blessings. Over time, this custom gradually evolved into the tradition of putting money, gold, and silver inside a red cloth bag and giving it to younger generations.

Additionally, the origin of red envelopes is also related to seasonal rituals and the accumulation of wealth. During important festivals like the lunar New Year, people conduct ritual ceremonies to pray for a bountiful harvest and the prosperity of their families. After these ceremonies, elders put coins into red envelopes as a blessing and New Year's gift for the younger generation. This tradition has persisted and become a way for friends and family to express blessings and care.

What is the significance of giving red envelopes?

Red envelopes, as a unique form of Chinese traditional culture, carry rich cultural connotations and social significance, making them an indispensable part of Chinese culture.

Blessings and Good Luck

The most direct meaning of red envelopes is blessings and good luck. When we give red envelopes to family and friends during festive occasions like the Chinese New Year, the primary purpose is to bring them good fortune and happiness. Each red envelope carries our best wishes for the recipient, hoping for their safety, health, and smooth journey in the coming year.

Celebration and Joy

Red envelopes also symbolize celebration and joy. In Chinese traditional culture, red envelopes are often used in various celebrations and special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, or academic achievements. In these situations, giving a red envelope is not just a gift but also a way to express joy and blessings, adding a festive atmosphere and allowing people to share in the joyous celebration.

Family Ties and Care

Red envelopes also carry the emotions of family ties and care. In Chinese family culture, the tradition of elders giving red envelopes to younger family members represents the elders' love and blessings. Additionally, among friends and colleagues, giving red envelopes is a way to express friendship and care, bringing people closer and strengthening relationships.

Social Interaction and Etiquette

Red envelopes serve as a means of social interaction and etiquette. In Chinese society, there are certain manners and customs associated with the giving and receiving of red envelopes. Giving red envelopes in appropriate situations expresses respect and politeness, fostering deeper relationships. Simultaneously, recipients of red envelopes often express gratitude and thanks in an appropriate manner, showcasing social etiquette.

Business Etiquette

In business settings, red envelopes are often used as a symbolic gift or tip to express respect and gratitude. Despite the diverse payment methods in modern society, red envelopes remain an integral part of business etiquette, signifying a gesture of appreciation and courtesy.

Red Envelopes for Chinese New Year

Presenting red envelopes during the New Year is a significant tradition in classical Chinese culture, serving as a means to convey blessings and sentiments. The following will give you a detailed introduction to the etiquette of the Chinese New Year's red envelopes, to help you better pass the blessing and expression of emotion.

1, When are red envelopes given during Chinese New Year?

During the Chinese New Year, parents, grandparents, and other elders often give red packets to children on New Year's Eve or the morning of the first day of the year to welcome the new year and convey blessings and joy.

Friends and relatives typically exchange red envelopes when visiting each other during the New Year period. Of course, according to the actual situation and personal habits, you can also choose other appropriate time to give red envelopes.

2, How much should be given in the Chinese New Year's red envelope?

Lucky money, for the elder, is looking forward to the children’s sound health; for the young, it implies an expression of blessing. The amount in the red envelope varies from tens to thousands of Yuan. The more intimate the relationship is, the more valuable the red envelope is likely to be. Naturally it depends on their personal economic situation, and the main idea is simply to add joy to the festival.

Regional differences in red packet amounts exist; for example, in Guangdong, the quantity of red packets may be emphasized, generally do not care about the amount of red envelopes, red envelopes may be 6 yuan, 8 yuan, a little more may be 66 yuan, 88 yuan, the amount in a red envelope is usually some auspicious numbers. In Jiangsu, the amount of red envelopes is based on their own reality, but a red envelope inside the minimum is 100 yuan.

3, Using Red Paper Bags

When giving a HONGBAO, it's preferable to use a red paper bag. Red symbolizes auspiciousness, joy, and good luck in Chinese culture, and placing the red envelope in a red bag enhances the expression of blessings and joy. Additionally, writing auspicious phrases on the paper bag adds extra meaning.


Hand-delivering red packets is a sign of respect and care. It is also a very important ceremony for the Chinese New Year. Sometimes we also give red envelopes through WeChat or Alipay, but hand-delivered red envelopes are still the best main way to express love.

5, Well-Wishing Expressions

When giving red envelopes, you will say some New Year's blessings, for example, to the younger generation at work, one might say, "May your work go smoothly and all your wishes come true". For children, a common expression is, "May you grow happily and succeed in your studies". When giving red packets to elders, phrases like "Wishing you health and longevity" are commonly used. The words of blessing can let the other party feel your sincere blessing and concern, make the red envelope more meaningful.

Red Envelopes for Birthday

When family members, friends, or couples celebrate birthdays, aside from giving gifts, it's common to also give red envelopes. With the convenience of smartphones, sending red envelopes has become quite easy. But how much is appropriate for a birthday red envelope? Here are some guidelines:

For Couples' Birthday Red Envelopes

Typically, consider sending amounts that represent special meanings, like "520" for "I love you" or "1314" for "forever." If you find these amounts too large, you can opt for 13.14.

For Close Relatives' Birthday Red Envelopes

For parents, close relatives, and very dear friends, a standard birthday red envelope could be 200 or more, with parents usually receiving 500 or more. For more significant birthdays, consider adjusting the amount based on your financial situation.

For Regular Friends' Birthday Red Envelopes

For ordinary friends, you can give smaller amounts—several yuan, a dozen yuan, or several tens of yuan are all acceptable. Choose a red envelope with a lucky number, such as 6, 8, 6.8, 16, 18, 66, 88, 68, etc. For example, 6 symbolizes smoothness, and 8 represents wealth, conveying your good wishes.

Red Envelopes for Wedding

Giving red envelopes when friends or family get married is the most direct way to express blessings. Here are three points to consider when giving wedding red envelopes:

How much do you need to give for the wedding red envelope?

For friends with regular relationships, a typical monetary gift might be around 100 or 200 yuan. For closer relationships, consider an amount of 300 yuan or more, adjusting based on the closeness of the relationship and your own financial situation. Generally, for close relatives and friends, the amount tends to be higher, while for acquaintances or colleagues, it can be moderate or relatively lower.

Appearance of the Wedding Red Envelope

The red envelope cover could feature phrases like "Happy Wedding" or "Wishing You a Hundred Years of Harmony." Additionally, write a handwritten blessing and your name on the back of the red envelope to avoid confusion.

Timing of Delivering the Wedding Red Envelope

The timing of delivering the wedding red envelope is also crucial. Generally, you can bring the red envelope to the wedding venue on the wedding day or deliver it to the couple in advance. If opting for early delivery, it's best to do so within a week before the wedding to ensure the couple receives the blessings in a timely manner.

Alipay and WeChat Red Envelope

Wechat Hongbao

Moving on from the traditional red envelope, there is a new way which is far more appealing for smart phone users, and that is using apps such as Alipay, WeChat and the Weibo Red Envelope. Digital red envelopes especially offer excitement and value on the Eve of Lunar New Year, as users can win red envelopes by shaking their smart phones during the time that the Gala is being televised.

Tips about lucky money:

1. Please don’t open red envelopes on the spot, because it is impolite.

2. The Red envelope is also called "lishi" 利是 in Cantonese speaking areas.

3. Pick a lucky number as the amount for the red envelope. In Chinese culture, good things come in pairs, so an even number is very favorable. The numbers two, six and eight are popular, but the number four is an exception, because its pronunciation is similar to the word for “death” in the Chinese language.

4. The amount of lucky money is usually an integer; people like to exchange the notes of consecutive numbers which means that they are wishing for people to get promotion at every step.

5. If you want to give a large amount in a red packet, you may as well change some new 100 Yuan notes.

6. Say “Best wishes for the New Year!” when you give lucky money.

7. People like to exchange some new cash to put in the red package, so there is always a long line in the bank before New Year’s arrival.

8. Can red envelopes be recycled? Following the principle of not wasting, generally, red envelopes can be recycled and reused, as long as they look good, are not damaged, and are relatively new. However, it also depends on local customs; some places may have taboos against using old red envelopes. Moreover, specific red envelopes may have different blessings written on them, making them unsuitable for reuse in certain contexts. For example, a red envelope with the words "Happy Wedding" should not be repurposed as a red envelope for the New Year. New Year red envelopes typically have blessings like "Good Fortune and Prosperity," which shouldn't be used for wedding red envelopes.

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