Chinese New Year Fun: The Tradition of the Red Envelope

🇨🇳 Lunar New Year Fun & Festivities

By Melissa Hucal February 18, 2015

Every holiday has its special traditions and Chinese New Year is no exception. The red envelope has become a tradition in China and other Asian societies for the New Year and other holidays and special occasions.

One of the most popular legends about the red envelope is the story of a demon who would appear in a village each night, touching the heads of the children and making them very sick. One couple, desperate to save their child from the demon, placed eight coins thought to be fairies near their child's head to protect him. 

When the demon approached the child that night, red light illuminated the coins, blocked the demon's vision, and spared the child. When the parents told others what had happened, the village believed that giving children money in a red packet would keep bad things away.

Another story began as a tale of adventure about a young man who saved a town from a demon during the Sung Dynasty. Yielding a magic sword, he restored peace to the town as he slayed the demon. As a token of their thanks, the town presented him with a reward in a red envelope.

Today, the age-old tradition of the Red Envelope continues. Red is the color of good luck and happiness in Chinese tradition, and a monetary gift given in a red envelope is believed to be "lucky money" for the recipient.

Children are typically the recipients of red envelopes adorned with gold symbols or pictures at the New Year. Red envelopes with money inside are also given at weddings and by companies to employees as bonuses at other times of the year.

The amount of money given usually correlates to the relationship between the giver and the receive (relatives or those who are close to the giver receive higher amounts of money). It can be as little as a couple of dollars or a more substantial gift.

Money in the envelope is given as bills instead of coins so that the amount cannot be guessed and is given in even increments (odd numbers are bad luck). Amounts with the number eight are especially lucky because the word for "eight" in the Chinese language sounds like a word that means "prosperity."

Recreate this tradition in your family by making your own red envelopes with just a few simple folds. Start with a square piece of red paper (ours was an 8-inch square). Turn it on the diagonal and fold the left and right corners into the center. Fold the bottom corner up just past the center and tuck the top triangle behind the other two corners. Run a glue stick along the folds to keep them in place.

Fill your envelope with a couple of dollars before folding down the top flap and securing with a piece of double-stick tape or a gold seal. Gift it to a child or a friend as a wish for prosperity in the coming year!

Learn more about the red envelope tradition: Chinese New Year: Red Envelope