All you need to know about red packets—A Chinese New Year Lifesaving 101 Guide for Expats
Among all Chinese festivals, the Lunar New Year is the most widely celebrated one that you cannot miss. In such an important time of the year, you definitely want to impress your Chinese friends and colleagues by showing them how much you understand their sophisticated traditional culture. In this article, you will learn all you need to know about red packets and a tip on how to have a wealthy and prosperous year ahead. Read until the end!
Photo credit: @pbernardon
A strange man in red with a long black beard is knocking on my door, should I answer it?
While Santa is the man in red with a white beard, getting into your house through the chimney on Christmas Eve delivering gifts; there is another man in red yet with a black beard, knocking on your door the first day of Lunar new year. Rather than gifts he is there to send you all the blessings you need to embark on the new year.
Caishen is the god of wealth. No matter if this Caishen is carrying a handful of red packets or not, you should always open the door to welcome the well-being he brings to start you off on the upcoming year. Once you reject Caishen, he will never come to you again!
Photo credit: 香港01
Who can give red packets?
The ones with money! This can’t be wrong. But there’s another condition: you should be married.
The more offspring you have, the more fortune you have gathered. This is a traditional Chinese philosophy. If you’re lucky enough to find your second half in this big world, you’re now qualified to share your luck with others.
Who can receive red packets?
Everyone, isn’t it? The New Year joy is for everyone to share, but red packets are typically for the unmarried people to receive.
But sometimes, in a different setting, you may see red packets given in a different way.
For example in the office, bosses should give their employees red packets as the motivation to continue their hard work after the Lunar New Year holiday.
Photo credit: Teresa Lee
Can red packets not be red?
Sure, but there’s not much you can choose from. Cool colors like green, blue, or black-and-white are closely related to funerals. So even if your nephews are fans of Frozen’s Elsa or Stitch, it’s best to stick with the traditional colors- particularly if their traditional parents are around.
On the other hand, you might be tempted with the color pink, since it is a warm color. However this color is also a big taboo, since it is a secondary color to red, it is a color for the concubine. If you give a pink packet the blessing will also be considered downgraded.
Which one is the best color? Red for sure! If you’d like an option that’s a bit more creative, you can also go for gold. These two are the brightest colors of all, and you can’t go wrong with these choices.
How many red packets should I give?
Chinese believe in the rule of pairs. It is fair to receive a pair of red packets from a married couple. But for newly married couples, in the first year they start giving red packets, they should double the joy by doubling the number of red packets they give, which means each of them should give two. It is called ‘pair packets’ in Chinese. Spot your newly married couple friends and expect four red packets from them!
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Once I started ‘pair packets’, should I always give ‘pair packets’?
There’s a saying that ‘once you start, you should follow’. Some people believe that if they have started giving ‘pair packets’, they should continue to give ‘pair packets’ in the following years.
But as time goes by, people prefer to go green and from the second year on, the couple is a team and giving one pair is enough.
When it comes to your colleagues, if they do not know your significant other, you can choose to give one red packet. And more, divorced people can also give a single red packet.
How much should I zip in?
The amount you give can vary based on your relative seniority, economic situation or the receivers connect with you. The general rule is the closer you are with the person the more you should give. Colleagues and neighbours could receive HK$10 to HK$20, while close family members could go up to HK$500 or even HK$1,000 per packet. It’s all about investing into relationships that you value.
As a reminder, it’s mostly married people who give red packets, and the packets should be given in pairs – so make sure to consider this in your upcoming February budget.
Photo credit: @marvin_ronsdorf
Numbers to avoid
There are certain numbers you should always avoid. Not only because Chinese believe in the rule of pair, it is also due to the fact that white packets given in funerals are in odd numbers. You should never make the total sum an odd number. Numbers three, four and five are also values you should avoid. Since 3 shares a similar pronunciation with dispersal, 4 with death, 5 with nothingness, you should always avoid including them.
An empty packet
We all know red packets are supposed to have money inside, giving an empty red packet definitely misses the point. In Chinese, the pronunciations of emptiness and portent are the same, giving an empty red packet is not only a curse to the receiver, but also the one who curses will be cursed as well.
When there are so many red packets to fill, it is understandable when one of two of them have accidentally been missed. So make sure to double check your packets!
What should we do if we happen to have received an empty red packet? It can’t be easier! Fill it with a Caishen paper. If it’s hard for you to get one, simply put a red paper with auspicious greetings inside, or cash can do! Removing the curse or not, this will help to make yourself feel better!
Photo credit: MissBanana Doodle
What dates should I give red packets?
According to the Chinese calendar, the first 15 days are within the Lunar New Year Festival. That’s why most people will keep red packets until the 15th day. So that they’re always ready to give red packets whenever they see their encounters.
When can I open my red packets?
Wait a second. Didn’t you just say that people are still giving red packets until the 15th day of the Lunar new year? Doesn’t it mean it’s the 16th that we can start opening them?
On the Chinese calendar, the 7th day is Renri, literally meaning People’s Day or Human’s Day. It is believed to be the day that human beings were created. Since it’s the birthday for everyone, you may feel free to open your blessings for the year.
Photo credit: @kaerieann
Is there any situation where I cannot give red packets?
Unfortunately, if you happen to have lost any of your family members or relatives in the last 100 days, you cannot visit others in the New Year and should not give red packets. Since giving red packets intends to share the luck to others, if you have just experienced some unfortunate events as losing your beloved ones, it is believed that you will pass the bad luck.
But look at it in another way, it’s also a relief so that you can allow yourself to grief and avoid squeezing fake smiles.
Watch out, you should never drop your red packets!
Be careful not to get too excited and accidentally drop any of your red packets. What belongs to you has already been prepared for you. Your red packets can wait, but once you drop them, the blessings with them will also drop.
My younger brothers and sisters are married too, does it mean I don’t need to give them red packets?
There is no concrete answer for this. Different families have different rituals.
But for those families who keep the tradition of giving younger siblings red packets, rather than a married senior distributing your good fortune, you’re more a caretaker sharing your properousty to your younger beloved ones.
My boss is not married yet, should I give them red packets?
It does sound like an awkward situation if your boss is not married yet but you already are,. In concern of saving face, do they want to receive the red packets?
When the setting is no longer the family, the Chinese culture becomes a bit flexible.
Let’s not forget the most important purpose of giving red packets is to share the happiness. Civility costs nothing. When you don’t know whether to give the red packets or not, simply do it. With your genuine blessings, your boss will certainly appreciate it.
Photo credit: Jason Lee
Can I give red packets to an unborn baby?
Your intention is good but let’s wait for one more year. An unborn baby is not considered a complete life. And Chinese believe that the fortune a red packet carries may override the incomplete life form and bring harm. Another concern is that if the unborn is a twin instead, they will need to compete for blessings.
What do I do with my received red packets? to promise a wealthy year?
To promise a wealthy year, there is a feng shui tactic called ‘borrow the wealth from the wealthy’. Keep the red packets from your boss or a big client unopened, add a few rice grains and tea leaves, then put them in your drawer or safe. In such a way, you can gather the wealth fortune from your boss or client.
Not a fan of feng shui?
A more modern way to promise a wealthy year is to add your received red packet money to your savings.
In time for the Lunar New Year, gini now allows you to add cash income. This means you can track your cash income and expenses, right along side the money coming in and out of your bank accounts and credit cards – for a complete picture of your finances.
Start using gini’s Simple Saving feature to help you save your new wealth. Since its launch, almost half of our users using this feature are able to reach their saving goals. Almost half of our users using this feature are able to reach their saving goals! So join the community of gini users – the gini app now and start a wealthy year!
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