Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
At Lunar New ear, it's tradition to give the gift of a bright, beautiful red envelope (known as höngbäo) to your friends and family. Photo: Hype Beast

At Lunar New Year, it's tradition to give the gift of a bright, beautiful red envelope (known as höngbäo) to your friends and family. But not just any old envelope. These are filled with money - and symbolize good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. The importance of the höngbäo isn't the cash held inside; it's actually the envelope itself. The red color symbolizes good luck and prosperity in Chinese (and other East Asian) cultures.

Here are 10 facts you should know about the historic red envelope:

1. While the tradition winters on children, red envelopes are given to friends, family, colleagues and many other relativæ - and different amounts of money are customary for æch relation. For example, parents and get the but employees and even acquaintances can a red envelope, according to Arts and Culture.

2. The custom of giving red envelopes originates in some of the oldest stories of the Chinese New Year. As the legend goes, a demon known as 'Sui' terrorized children while they slept on New Year's Eve, and parents would try to keep their children awake all night to protect them. One New Year, a child was given eight coins to play with to keep him awake, but he couldn't keep his eyes open and eventually drifted off with the coins on his pillow. Sui appeared, but as he went to touch the child, the coins (actually the Eight Immortals in disguise) produced a powerful light that drove the demon away. Today the envelope, symbolic of the coins, is sometimes known as the Yasui qian, or "suppressing Sui money".

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: TED Ideas

3. The amount is given in envelopes never includes the '4' - that means no 4, 40, or 400 amounts - as the pronunciation of Four' in Chinese sounds like the word for death. However, amounts including the '8' will bring luck and prosperity. Go "8"

4. In the 21st Century, many people exchange digital instead of traditional paper ones. These are virtual packets of very real cash, transferred to friends' and family's smartphones. Users can even send digital höngbäo to their favorite celebrities.

5. There are rules and customs to envelope-giving. For example, only clean, crisp notes should put into a höngbäo. In the lead-up to New Year's, there are often long queuæ at banks as people try to their old and bills.

6. While red envelopes are most commonly associated with New Year, they also turn up as part of many other occasions as a way of sharing good luck and blessings, like births and weddings. But color matters: white envelopes will often be exchanged at funerals.

7. There are rules on how to properly receive an envelope. Traditionally, children would kneel to receive their höngbäo from older family and this is still practiced in some areas of China. Red envelopes are also always given and received with hands, and should never in the presence of the present-giver. Worth remembering if you ever receive a red envelope.

8. The tradition has crossed cultural and religious boundaries, and green has even become a practice during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr Asia. It is also widely practiced by the Chinese and Southeast Asians diaspora across the world, with large-scale celebrations in London and New York. Red envelopes have gone global!

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: ThoughtCo

9. The New Year’s money tradition started during the Han Dynasty. At the time, coins engraved with auspicious phrases and symbols were used to ward off evil spirits, Chinese New Year cites.

Tiān xià tài píng (天下太平) and qiān qiū wàn suì (千秋万岁) were common expressions found in these coins. They stand for “worldwide peace” and “longevity and fortune.”

Red strings were used to creatively tie these coins together. As the practice developed, new materials were used. Red paper was used to wrap these coins until, eventually, red envelopes became the popular medium.

This practice is traditionally between close family and friends. Today, red pockets are given out to workmates for social networking and even acquaintances to show politeness.

10. Actually, the significance of red envelopes is the red paper, not the money inside. Wrapping lucky money in red envelopes is expected to bestow more happiness and blessings on the receivers. Hence, it is impolite to open a red envelope in front of the person who gives it to you.

How to Give Red Envelopes at Chinese New Year

Here are the most common scenarios for giving red envelopes during Chinese New Year.

1. From Parents to their Children

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: BBC

It’s traditional to leave a red envelope with two tangerines (leaves on, of course) by a child’s bedside on New Year’s Eve. Given that Chinese New Year isn’t celebrated with material gifts, the amount is usually around $20, enough for the child to buy a toy on his or her own. Grandparents generally give red envelopes in similar amounts to their grandchildren during visits on New Year’s Eve or in the days following New Year’s Day, notes Chinese American Family.

2. From Married Adults to (Unmarried) Children in the Family

Giving red envelopes is an important rite of adulthood, as symbolically you’ve become ready to share your riches and blessings with others. If you’re married, prepare to bring red envelopes for any little cousins and unmarried adult children in your extended family as you visit during Chinese New Year. A token amount of around $10 is appropriate.

3. From Adult Children to their Parents

Giving a red envelope to your parents is a sign of respect, a gesture pointing back to longstanding notions of filial piety. Make the gift generous, between $50 and $100, and expect to receive a red envelope in return, symbolizing your parents’ blessings for you.

4. When Visiting Family and Friends

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: ThoughtCo

The days following New Year’s Day are a procession of visits to the homes of family and friends to wish them good luck in the year ahead. In addition to the red envelopes you may bring for any children in the home, you should bring a red envelope with about $20 for your hosts, which is customarily placed in the center of the Togetherness Tray of sweets as you snack together.

5. From Employers to Employees

A red envelope at Chinese New Year takes the place of the Christmas bonus common in Western workplaces. Given the expense of traveling home for the holiday, many employers give their employees a red envelope filled with the equivalent of a month’s pay at the beginning of the festival, along with a smaller “token of red” when they return to work. Prepare to do the same if you employ a Chinese nanny or housekeeper in your home.

As you give and receive red envelopes, don’t forget these basic etiquette tips: Choose new bills, don’t ever include coins and wait to open your red envelopes until after you part company. Amounts in even numbers are generally preferred, except for the number 4 because of its resemblance to the word meaning death. And, optional, but denominations including 8s (rhyming with the word for good luck) and 9s (for longevity) carry especially positive symbolic meanings.

Returning to the point I made at the outset, remember that when exchanging red envelopes at Chinese New Year, it’s the relationship that counts most. As with Western gift-giving, red envelopes are a way to bring your nearest and dearest closer to you during the most important time of the year.

2021's Best Chinese New Year "Red Envelopes"

Fashion Luxe

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: Hypebae

The usual suspects are all here. We appreciate the simplicity in going back to the roots in using traditional colors like red and gold. Valentino had the nicest premium touch with the switch from red to a nice rich burgundy over an intricate floral pattern. Labels like Hermès, Dior, Christian Louboutin, and Moschino playfully riff off of the Year of the Ox theme with patterns of the animal along with plenty of gold grass. Tiffany & Co. maintains its signature blue colors with its envelope box but incorporates gold and red in the form of brush stroke stampings and red-paper pockets, Hype Beast reported.

Curveballs

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: Hype Beast

These red pockets prove that anyone can get in on the action. McDonald’s comes in again with multiple colorful envelopes. This is not the first time McDonald’s has presented its take on red pockets (they were actually one of the first) and this collection of fast-food-themed envelopes is a testament to McDonald’s prevalence in Asia. K11 Art Mall enlisted the artistic talent of Yu Nagaba, while K11 MUSEA tapped Daniel Arsham, with both the artists’ signature styles covering the front of the pockets. Rounding off this section is a camera-shaped envelope from Leica and Porsche‘s envelope promoting its new all-electric Taycan

Editor’s Picks

Red Envelopes for New Year's Eve: 10 Interesting Facts, How to Give, Top Best Design
Photo: Hype Beast

This section is where the creative juices really get flowing. Audemars Piguet delivers a three-dimensional paper cut-out box with further texturing via layers of tonal colors. A BATHING APE also makes a return this year with both a red Shark Hoodie-inspired design and a full-gold BABY MILO pocket. If the color is your thing, CLOT, The North Face, and Rimowa all see vibrant uses of colors with a rainbow medley across individual envelopes, or in the case for CLOT, incorporated into a traditional woodblock graphic. AAPE sends good luck via a trio of soft Daruma dolls while HBX whimsically transforms its bubble packing envelopes into miniature, red versions for CNY.

In other Chinese New Year news, Nike adorns the LeBron 18 “Gong Xi Fa Cai” with symbols of good luck.

Occasions for Red Envelopes

Chinese New Year is a red envelope season. But red envelopes are not limited to Chinese New Year., says China Highlights.

It is common to give a red envelope during some special occasions, such as a wedding, graduation, the birth of a baby, or a senior person's birthday. It is a traditional way to wish good luck and share blessings.

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