Chinese Hongbao: What You Need to Know About the Tradition of Giving Red Envelopes

January 29, 2021

Chinese children are the most excited to get their piggy banks ready to collect hongbao, especially during the Lunar Year season. Hongbao packets, also known as red envelopes, are regarded as traditional gifts adults give to kids who do not have a source of income. People usually make arrangements to get hongbao much before the Chinese New Year approaches so that they have enough red packets ready while visiting families. 

If you wish to know more about hongbao envelopes, read on.

How Much Do People Usually Put in a Hongbao?

The amount of money one usually puts inside the hongbao varies from person to person. The main idea is to give round figures and numbers that end in eight. People avoid keeping amounts containing the digit 4 as it is considered unlucky, according to Chinese beliefs; they also avoid keeping coins inside hongbao.

When Do People Give Hongbao?

People usually do not expect hongbao from foreigners who visit their place during the Chinese New Year, and from guests who don't follow Chinese customs. But giving hongbao to children can be an unexpected and sweet gesture when you're with a Chinese family as a guest. You can always choose to discuss with your family about an appropriate amount. 

People who follow Chinese traditions also give hongbao for birthdays and weddings. It is always better to discuss with a local friend about the amount if you have a fear about your gift being too less for the receiver.

Connection of Hongbao with Chinese New Year

Chinese households use hongbao as a decoration at homes on New Year flowers and plants during the Lunar New year season. Only empty hongbao is used for decorating homes.

Giving Hongbao for Other Occasions

People who keenly follow the Chinese custom also gift hongbao for occasions other than Lunar New Year. Guests who get invited for weddings and birthdays also give hongbao to people.

You can get hongbao from stationery shops at any time of the year. Make sure that you purchase the correct envelope for the occasion you are planning to go. Telling the stationer about the kind of event you are planning to attend could help you get envelopes that evoke the correct sentiment.

Gifting Etiquette for Hongbao

There are a few things one has to consider while gifting someone hongbao, and here are those:

  • Make sure that you don't give wrinkled and old bills to anyone. Always make sure that the envelopes you give someone are neat and clean.
  • Prepare yourself to give out envelopes at any time during the Chinese New Year season - so make sure that you put them together prior. You never know when you will have to meet someone or when someone would come to you with their kids during the holidays.
  • Mark the envelopes to make sure that the right envelope goes to the right person. Choosing differently designed envelopes can help you to keep you away from accidental swapping of envelopes. 

Gifting Modern Hongbao

Since technology has advanced, nowadays people don't even have to get up from their couches to give someone a hongbao. Cool, isn't it? Several photo-sharing apps have come up with electronic hong bao to make it easier for everyone to send it. 

This year owing to social distancing measures banks in Singapore are rolling out digital red envelopes or e-hongbao with customisable greetings or graphics. All the major banks like the DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, Maybank, UOB, Citibank and Standard Chartered will offer e-hongbao for the Chinese New Year

So what are you waiting for? - sort your hongbao or buy one online and send it right away to your dear ones!

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