Red envelopes/packets are money wrapped in red paper given to kids from their parents, grandparents and others as New Year gifts. They are called hongbao in Mandarin and lai see in Cantonese. Sending red packets is a well-observed custom at Chinese New Year.
The Significance of Red Envelopes
Chinese people love the color red, and regard red as the symbol of energy, happiness and good luck. Sending red packets is a channel for sending good wishes and luck. Actually, the significance of red packets is the red paper, not the money inside. Wrapping money in red packets is hoped to bring more happiness and blessing to the receivers. Hence, it is impolite to open a red packet in front of the person who gives you.
In China, the red packet is called yasui qian (压岁钱 /yaa-sway chyen/), which means ‘suppressing ghosts money‘. Those who receive a red packet are wished another year negotiated safely and peacefully.
The Giving of Red Packets
Those who intend to send red packets prepare them in advance, such as after the New Year’s Feast, as when the bell of a New Year is ringing, kids begin to pay New Year visits to greet their elders, and then it is customary for the elders to give the kids their red packets immediately. Hongbao can be put under kids’ pillows by their parents if they fall asleep on the New Year’s Eve.
Who should I give a red packet to? And how much should I put in it?
Traditionally speaking, if you have started earning money, it is time to start your experience of giving red packets. Giving a red packet is a way to share your blessings. Generally the amount of money wrapped in the red packets depends on your income.
However, there is a custom that if you are not married, you need not to send red packets to others. Your close relatives (like your parents and your grandparents) would keep giving you red packets even though you are married, which is a symbolism of their love and blessings to you.
- To your elders (especially your parents and grandparents): always $100 – $300
- To the younger generation without income (especially those who are still at school), such as the children of your close friends, your relatives and your colleagues: always $10 – $30
- To your own children: always $20 to the amount you happy to give
- To your employees: always $20 – $200 (always given on the last working day before the Chinese New Year holiday)
- To other children: Prepare some small red packets with $5 or $10 for acquaintances’ children, in case you meet them during the Chinese New Year period.
However, they are only guidelines. The true meaning shall always be a way “to share your blessing”.
Happy Chinese New Year!!
Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is a major holidays in not just China but also other countries in Asia. Here are 10 interesting facts about this important and popular holiday.
1. The date varies!
The date for Chinese New Year changes each year. It always falls between January 21 and February 20, determined by the Chinese lunar calendar.
2. The holiday is oddly called “Spring Festival”.
Though in winter, Chinese call their New Year holidays ‘Spring Festival’ (春节 chūnjié /chwnn-jyeah/), because ‘Start of Spring’ (4–18 February) is the first of the terms in the traditional solar calendar. While wintry weather prevails, ‘Start of Spring’ marks the end of the coldest part of winter, when the Chinese traditionally could look forward to the beginning of spring.
3. Every Chinese New Year starts a new animal’s zodiac year.
Chinese zodiac years: A very old custom is to name the years by one of 12 animals in their zodiac cycle. For example, 2016 is a year of the Monkey. Many Chinese still believe in astrology and other New Year superstitions.
People focus on priorities: making amends, reconciling with people, avoiding offence, and re-establishing old ties. They buy and wear new clothes, give gifts, and clean house.
4. It is a festival for 1/5 of the world’s population.
It’s China’s winter vacation week, like between Christmas and New Year’s Day other countries.Schools in China get about a month off, and universities even more. China, Hong Kong and Macau, and nine other Asian countries have public holidays.
- China: 1.3 billion in China get three days of public holiday.
- Indonesia: 250 million people in Indonesia get one day of public holiday.
- Philippines: 100 million get one day of public holiday.
- Vietnam: 90 million people get at least three days of public holidays, but the holidays sometimes extends for an entire week by taking away weekends, as in China.
- South Korea: 50 million people get three days of public holiday.
- Malaysia: 30 million people get one day of public holiday.
- North Korea: 24 million people get three days of public holiday.
- Taiwan: 24 million people get four days of public holiday generally.
- Brunei: One day of public holiday.
- Singapore: Two days of public holiday.
- Hong Kong: Three days of public holidays, extending to four days if the holidays fall on a Sunday.
- Macau: Three days of public holiday, extending to four days if the holidays fall on a Sunday.
5. Billions of red envelopes are exchanged.
These red envelopes with cash are given out from older to younger, from bosses to employees, and from leaders to underlings. It is a special New Year’s bonus. Read more on how to give Chinese New Year lucky money (red envelopes)
6. It’s big in London and HK.
500 thousand people converged for Chinese New Year in London’s Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, and central London streets in 2013.
In Hong Kong, a big holiday custom is horse racing: The most popular races of all in the city happens on the third day of the Spring Festival holidays when 100,000 excited fans crowd into Sha Tin Racecourse. The spectators watch a grand opening show, a featured lion dance, and a variety of cultural performances and entertainment.
7. 4% of the world’s population are on the move.
200 million Mainland Chinese travel long distances for these holidays, and it is estimated that there are 3.5 billion journeys in China. For comparison, less than 100 million people travel more than 50 miles during the Christmas holidays in the US according to the American Automobile Association.
Tens of millions of people travel in other countries too. In Korea, 30 million people visited their hometowns in 2013.
8. There is the world’s biggest annual fireworks usage.
No single hour in any other country sees as many tons of fireworks lighted as in China around the midnight beginning Chinese New Year. China produces about 90% of the world’s fireworks!
Fireworks are used to scare evil spirits: Most mainland Chinese believe that the flash and bang of firecrackers and fireworks scare away demons and evil ghosts.
Read more on the Chinese New Year Firework Performance in Hong Kong>>
9. The Lantern Festival once ended 16 days of festivities.
Traditionally, the 16 days from New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival each had a special celebration activity.
The Lantern Festival: In the evening of 15th day of the first lunar month, on the night of the full moon, families gather for dinner and go out and see fireworks and light lanterns. Lanterns are put up for decoration, let loose to fly, and floated in rivers.
Ice lanterns shine in Harbin: High-tech giant ones glow with beautiful colors. Thousands of traditional smaller ones are lit also.
10. “Xinnian Kuaile” means “Happy New Year”.
Xīnnián kuàilè! (新年快乐). That’s pronounced “sshin-nyen kwhy-luh”, by the way.
- See more on Chinese New Year Greetings>>
Touring China at Chinese New Year
High season: It is by far the busiest travel period in China. The heaviest travel periods are a few days before Chinese New Year and around 8 days after. Get your tickets as early as possible before the holidays. Check Chinese New Year dates.
Recommended China Tour Packages
- Beijing Tours: Beijing has great architecture, long history, and grand celebrations. Tell our tour experts what you want to do during your tour.
- Tour Hong Kong during Chinese New Year: You can enjoy Hong Kong’s world class events, shop, and enjoy the warmer weather.
- Or we could help you create your own Chinese New Year tour.
Experience Chinese New Year with Local Family: To give a more authentic experience to customers, we would like to invite people who travel to Guilin during the Spring Festival (February 7–22, 2016) to visit a local family. There you can discover Chinese traditions in the special days. Please feel free to ask your travel advisor to arrange a family visit.