Red envelopes

Red envelopes have a special role in Chinese culture. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good fortune, and inside there is a certain amount of money depending on the different factors. The bills inside are usually picked up straight from the bank to ensure the perfect smoothness and cleanliness of the bills. If one does not have time to run to the bank, one can always iron the bills, so that they are as smooth as possible. Red envelopes are a common gift on birthdays, wedding days and other special occasions, but they also have special meaning during the Chinese Spring Festival. In China, the Spring Festival is the most important holiday of the year. It is the time of the year when all the family members come together, no matter the distance. One of the most important traditions during this holiday is handing out red envelopes to close relatives.

There is an old believe, that a coin inside a red envelope protects the children from evil demons. This is why especially parents and grandparents give red envelopes to their children and grandchildren. However, today red envelopes are also a common gift at work places, between friends, and from grown-up children to their parents. Nowadays it is also trendy to use smart phone applications, such as We Chat, to send out red envelopes.

The amount of money in the envelope depends on the relationship of the giver and receiver, as well as on the financial situation of the giver. Chinese lucky numbers 6, 8 and 9 also play a role in the amount of money given. Because number 8 is the most popular lucky number, the amount of money in the envelopes can often be 188 or 800 Chinese yuan, depending on the generosity of the giver. The amount of money can also be based on the amount of money the recipient has previously given to his/her close ones. For example, if Uncle Guo gives a young couple a red envelope with a generous amount of money on their wedding day, it is considered good manners for the couple to give more or less the same amount of money to Uncle Guo’s children when they get married.

The rules and calculations behind the red envelopes can be a lot to handle for a foreign person. If you end up in situation where it is appropriate to give a red envelope as a present, it is wise to ask for consultation from a Chinese friend. Too small amount, as well as too big amount can cause displeasure on the receiver.

Original text: Janna Lipiäinen
Translation: Annika Heikinheimo