In the Chinese traditional culture, most people, if not all, are well-acquainted with the word, 红包 (hóngbāo). Hóngbāo is a traditional red packet that dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BC). However, back then, the packaging was different.
Since paper bills weren’t around during that time, only coins were given by the elderly to the younger generations. They would tie the coin with a red string to symbolize good luck, ward off evil spirits, and protect them from sickness and even death.
Here are some guidelines for giving angpao today:
1. Do not used crumpled bills.
The act of giving an old, crumpled, or dirty bill could signify your distaste and indifference towards the receiver. It’s best to avoid this as it may result in silent judgement from your relatives on an otherwise happy occasion.
2. Avoid using white or black envelopes.
With all the loved ones you have to give gifts to during the holidays, you may run out of red packets. However, one must strictly avoid using white or black envelopes. Based on the Chinese traditional culture, different colors have different symbolisms. Red indicates an auspicious color, yellow symbolizes strength and euphoria, and so on. While the color black may suggest elegance and sophistication in Western culture, it’s closely associated with death, mourning, and evil magic among the Chinese. Likewise, white may suggest innocence and purity, however, it can also convey death since white-colored garments are usually worn at funerals and are given to mourning families.
3. Even numbers are better than odd numbers.
It’s best to give money in even numbers, rather than odd numbers as odd numbers are considered unlucky. Just be mindful that the amounts with the number 4 are also unlucky and should be avoided.
4. The socially accepted amount to give may vary.
Some say the socially accepted norm of the amount to give depends on the age of the recipient. Typically, once the child turns 18, there is no longer a need to hand out a Hóngbāo. However, they can still receive one on special occasions as long as they are not married yet.
Yet, others say it depends on how close you are to the recipient. The closer you are, the higher the amount. Although it must be duly noted that the concept of Hóngbāo is merely a thoughtful gesture and not a transaction. So in the long run, you have the power to decide how much you want to give.
5. Avoid giving Hóngbāo to the elderly.
It can show respect and proper etiquette when one doesn’t give Hóngbāo to the older generations. This may cause an uncomfortable shift between the sender and the receiver, effectively making the sender seem uncultured. However, this may also not apply to everyone. It is best to know your audience first before doing anything.
Want to know more about Hóngbāo and gift-giving? Check out Different Types of ‘Angpao’ in Different Countries and 5 Chinese Gifting Traditions You Should Know.