Friday, 8 February 2013

Chinese red envelopes: Dos and Don’ts

Image Source: WikiCommons

January 1st may seem like a long time ago now and 2013 is in full swing, however, for those that follow the lunar calendar, the New Year is yet to begin. As we enter the year of the snake on the 10th of February we explore the dos and don’ts around the tradition of giving red envelopes.

Red envelopes are used in Chinese and Asian societies for the giving of money on special occasions such as New Year, birthdays and weddings. The envelopes are red for a reason - symbolising good luck and is meant to ward off evil spirits. Envelopes can be accented with gold, which is a sign of wealth and prosperity though the colour varies throughout Asia with white envelopes given in Korea and amongst some Malay Chinese Muslims, green envelopes are used instead.

It is tradition that the amount of money given is in an even number and never amounts with the number four as in Chinese the number sounds similar to the word “death”. Money is normally given in notes to avoid the noise of coins and to make it harder for the receiver to guess the amount!
The amount given in a red envelope can differ, however US$10 is seen as a reasonable amount to give to a child.

There are also customs which dictate who gives and who receives envelopes although these differ slightly throughout Asia. Generally, within most Chinese families unmarried adults and children receive red envelopes from their parents although in some cases this is reversed and adults give envelopes to their parents.

There are other significant occasions which call on the giving of red envelopes such as weddings or a child winning a place at university.  When attending a wedding it is normally polite to include enough to cover your attendance as well as another small amount as a gift. The equivalent of Western Christmas bonuses is often given around the Chinese New Year to employees, again in red envelopes.
According to our Expat Explorer survey, rich cultural festivities and celebrations in Asia such as Chinese New Year is one of the things that make the region a fascinating place to be an expat. 64% of expats in China have a more interesting life since relocating, similarly 76% of expats in Hong Kong, 72% in Singapore and 70% of expats in Vietnam have a more interesting life than before they became an expat.

Do you celebrate Chinese New Year? What are your customs for giving red envelopes? Leave us a comment in the box below

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