Chinese New Year Red Envelope are one of the favorite Chinese traditions for children since on New Year’s Day, they are given the shiny packets with money inside. Kids of all ages quickly learn the words for red envelope: “hong bao” in Mandarin, “lai see” in Cantonese.

Traditionally the envelopes were decorated with gold letters and messages of prosperity or Chinese lucky symbols like the Chinese dragon, the phoenix, Chinese Lions, the Chinese Wise Men of wealth, the Chinese Zodiac animal for that year, etc.

Today, red envelopes are decorated with anything including Mickey Mouse, Pokémon, Hello Kitty, and Spider Man.

Who gets Red Envelopes?

Technically, all unmarried children get hong baos during Chinese New Year. The red envelopes are given by grandma, grandpa, uncles, aunts, mom and dad of course. Also it is not uncommon for close friends and neighbors to give red envelopes to children during the festivities.

Who gives red envelopes really depends on the personal relationship and the age of the children. A common Chinese New Year Greeting that awaits any adult visiting a household with kids will be: “Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái, Hóng Bāo Ná Lái!!!” meaning “Best wishes for the New Year, may I have my Red Envelope please?”

How Much Money is Given?

Any amount with a “4” is avoided because this is the “bad luck” number for Chinese people. The pronunciation of “4” resembles that of the character for “death”. Any amount with “8” is good because that is the lucky number. Crisp, shiny new bills are best, try to avoid wrinkled, old bills and coins.

Other Uses for Red Envelopes

Companies will give red envelopes to their employees as a year-end bonus and to their customers to thank them for their business.

You will also see red envelopes being “fed” into the Chinese Lion’s mouth during the many Lion Dances. This is supposed to bring good luck and is considered a donation for the martial arts troupe doing the performance.

Red Envelope Craft

Download the instructions and template to make red envelopes with your students here.