The History of the Red Envelopes and How to Use them In the Year of the Yang Earth Dog 2018
Are you really prepared for 2018?
For a child in China and other Asian countries, the red envelope evokes feelings of excitement, expectation, and elation. The envelopes are distributed as gifts to children and single adults during special occasions such as Chinese New Year or weddings and will if you’re fortunate enough, contain some money.
The envelopes are red which symbolise good luck and ward of evil spirits along with gold which is also an auspicious colour. Other names for the red envelope are ‘ang pow’, ‘red packets,’ lai see’, ‘laisee,’ or ‘hung-bao.’
In recent years, many companies have branded the red packets, and I’m unsure whether including advertising or marketing is necessarily a good thing as I would personally view the gifting of a red packet as altruistic. However, it’s lovely to see the integration of some eastern traditions into western society. Some very popular Ang Pow’s in China these days have cartoon characters on the front.
The image on the front of an Ang Pow is a symbolisation of blessings and good wishes for a long, successful and healthy life for the receiver of the envelope. It’s a great honour to receive these red packets, and the giver and receiver will use both hands during the gifting. Over the years various artists have incorporated other images on the packets to promote the message of good luck and enhance the meaning. You’ll find images such as carps swimming amongst flowering Lotus Lillies, mythical creatures such as Dragon’s and Phoenix. Also, depending on the year, the relevant Chinese zodiac animal sign. Other images are Peonies displayed in full bloom, three immortals, golden pineapples, Buddha’s and children and many other intricate designs.
We love to send out red envelopes free with every order to clients as a thank you and blessing of good luck. Contained in the red envelope is a Chinese i-Ching coin for extra luck for the year of the Yang Earth Dog 2018.
All of these Ang Pow’s bear very remarkable artwork, and over the years we have given and received some genuinely stunning Ang Pows both from family, friends, and clients. As a company that prides itself on quality and presentation, we very carefully choose every single design for our red envelopes.
The history of the Ang Pow red envelope
There are a few different stories about the origin of the red envelopes. Some say that the history of the Ang Pow dates right back to the Sung Dynasty in China. A huge demon was terrorising a village, and nobody in the village was able to defeat the demon, including warriors or statesmen. A young orphan stepped in armed with a magical sword, inherited from ancestors, and he fought the evil demon eventually killing it.
The villages were triumphant, and the elders presented the brave young man with a red envelope (more like a red pouch I would imagine) filled with money for his courage and for saving them all from the demon. Others say, during the Qin Dynasty, elderly people would thread coins with a red string which was called yā suì qián which translates to ‘money to avoid old age.’ The belief was that receiver would be protected from sickness and death and prevent aging. When printing presses became more common-place, the yasui qian (压岁钱) was replaced with paper red envelopes (ang pow’s).
A typical Chinese New Year greeting that awaits any adult visiting a household with children will be “Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái, Hóng Bāo Ná Lái”. This means “Best wishes for the New Year, may I have my red envelope please”? It sounds a bit cheeky asking for money but it’s traditional and acceptable.
How much money should you place inside a red envelope?
How much you receive depends on your financial situation. If you’re giving Ang Pow en
velopes to children for Chinese New Year, age will be a considering factor. The usual practice is that with each passing year the child can expect a little more money. A five-year-old child may, for example, receive £2 GBP (about $4 USD). The amount contained has to be in even numbers.
Two pounds, eight pounds, ten pounds or twenty pounds are all auspicious amounts to gift.
Giving red packets to employees, as a gift or bonus, before the Chinese New Year is also prevalent. It’s believed that the gesture will return good fortunes to the company.
The number of coins, or notes, placed in the envelope may take advantage of the Chinese homophones (words that sound the same but have a different meaning). For example; you can gift a favourable amount ending with eight (8) which sounds like ‘fortune’ in Chinese. Or, nine (9) which sounds like ‘longevity.’ Four (4), on the other hand, is not a good number to give as it sounds like ‘death.’
You should also make sure that the money is an even number as unlucky odd numbers are felt to be inauspicious. However, receiving a single Chinese i-Ching coin in a red envelope is considered to be very fortunate, and this is the reason we love to give these away as a gift to our customers.
Red envelopes are also ‘fed’ into the Chinese Lion’s mouth during the many Lion dances. Feeding the Lion is said to bring good luck for the year ahead to the ‘feeders’ and a donation to the Lion dance team who have to be super fit and healthy for this tiring role.
The red envelopes are a delightful way to present a gift and are also used to pay a Feng Shui Master or Consultant. It’s traditional to use both hands when giving or receiving an envelope. Whenever you give money to someone on a festive or auspicious occasion, such as a birthday or wedding, the envelope should never be white. The belief is that receiving a white envelope will result in you facing the bitterness of the receiver. However, if you lived in South Korea, the traditional envelope colour is white and not red, and written on the back of the envelope would be the receivers name.
The giving of a red envelope at a gloomy occasion such as a donation to the grieving family of the departed or for costs at a funeral is called ‘Pak Kum.’ So, if you ever deal with a Chinese client, please think twice before you hand their fee to them in a white envelope as this could cause offense. However, this is less of an issue in our western countries today.
Common names for Red Envelopes
In China where Mandarin is the national language, the red envelope is known as “hong bao”.
|Mandarin||China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia||hong bao|
|Cantonese||Hong Kong||lai see|
|Hokkien||Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia||ang pow (ang bao)|
|Korean||Korea||Sae Bae Don|
The term Red Envelope is also commonly known as Red Packet or Red Pocket which are closely related to the hong bao or ang pow terms.
Different red envelope designs
The rectangular shape of the red envelope is believed to represent a shield symbolising protection. The size of the envelope can vary from the typical small one, perfect for folded bank notes, to a full sized envelope which can accommodate unfolded notes and commonly used when giving more substantial amounts such as a wedding gift.
Laura’s Story – “From a personal experience, I have only been celebrating Chinese New Year for the past five years which is how long I’ve been working for the Feng Shui Store and have been in a relationship with Sean (Michael and Josephine’s eldest son). Before this, I had never received a red envelope. When I received my first red envelope, I thought it was such a lovely and kind gesture. I never expected to receive one. Olivia, my two-year-old daughter, received her first red envelope last year and obviously still doesn’t understand the meaning of it. But I can guarantee, when she is older, she will immediately focus on the size and thickness of the envelope as it would give her an idea of how much she may receive. I know that sounds silly, but any child would do the same thing until they are old enough to understand the true meaning.”
All red envelopes will have an image or Chinese character or both on the front to express a special occasion. I have shown below some meaning and what they symbolise.
|Red envelope image||Translation|
|Fish||Fish always represent wealth and luck and when displayed on an envelope they will be abundance of everything every year.|
|The Three Immortals (Fuk Luk & Sau)||Fuk, Luk and Sau. Fuk is the deity of wealth and prosperity, Luk symbolizes power and authority, and Sau symbolizes longevity.|
|Young boy and/or girl||The children are conveying their joy and excitement in receiving them.|
|Phoenix and dragon||Seen on wedding Red Envelopes. Represent Yin and Yang (feminine and masculine) and symbolise blissful relations between husband and wife.|
|Chinese Zodiac Animals||12 animals based upon 12 lunar year cycle..|
|Mandarin Citrus Fruit (looks like orange)||In Cantonese, this fruit sounds like ‘gold’ so symbolizes wealth.|
|Double ‘He’ (囍)||The double happiness symbol. Mainly used as wedding decoration to represent double happiness.|
|‘Fook’ (福)||Good luck and fortunes|
|‘Gong He Fat Choi’ (恭喜發財)||Congratulations and Prosperity. Generally means wishing you prosperity and good luck.|
|‘San Nian Fai Lok’ (新年快樂)||Happy New Year|
|‘Ya Sui Chin’ (壓歲錢)||Money warding off evil spirit|
Please feel free to download the project template and use it in your classroom or with your children. You can download the printer-friendly version by clicking this link. We would appreciate, love and enjoy seeing some of the finished work if you were happy to share with us.
This is an example of a handmade Ang Pow which started off as the template below and coloured by Michael and Jo’s then 12 year old niece Hannah.
When do you give Ang Pows?
The giving and receiving red envelopes are centuries old, and it’s more popular around the world now than ever before. During Chinese New Year, Ang Pow’s are given by married couples to small children, teenagers, and unmarried adults. Chinese New Year falls next year on the 16th February 2018.
Ang Pow’s can be given at any time and not just for special occasions; they are even used to pay fees. Considered auspicious, the Ang Pow can be gifted any time of the year. Using some of the money to pay off debt is also recommended but always remember to leave some of the money inside the red envelope and place in your purse, handbag or wallet.
It’s traditional, and customary still in Eastern culture, to give a red envelope to parents when their baby celebrates their first month of life. The parents will, in return, distribute to well-wishers gifts such as red-dyed eggs (and nui), yellow rice (nasi kunyit) with curry chicken or bean cakes (an ku). Receiving an Ang Pow with some money as a birthday gift for people of all age groups is also customary. The elderly even give gifts of money to the younger generation when they celebrate events like their 70th Birthday.
At weddings, the tradition is to give a red envelope with money that will not only be a gift for the newly-weds but also cover the cost of attending the occasion. In Southern China, the red envelopes are gifted by the unmarried (predominantly children) to the married couple. Northern China elders will give an Ang Pow to a young person who is usually under 25, regardless of their marital status. However, in some regions, red envelopes are only given to unemployed young people.
Traditionally, you should put brand new notes inside an Ang Pow, and it’s considered discourteous to open the envelope in front of the relative or giver.
Feng Shui enthusiasts believe that a red envelope containing a gold i-Ching coin can bring good luck to the bearer of the envelope. The recommendation is to place the envelope in their purse, wallet, accounting books or handbag. Used as a wish-list holder, you would write your dreams and aspirations on a piece of red paper and place inside the envelope. It’s believed this would encourage your dreams to actualise. Some Feng Shui practitioners, especially those that practice Tibetan black hat Feng Shui, often insist on being paid with their cash fee inside a red envelope. I would never make this a condition for payment but when I receive one I appreciate the thoughtful gesture.
Around 13 years ago, we were contacted by a local primary school wishing to give their students an Ang Pow for Chinese New Year. We were so thrilled to know that the school was teaching and introducing a variety of customs and rituals from around the world to enrich their student’s learning experience. Today, we have many schools ordering large quantities of Ang Pow’s every year.
I don’t want to make one; I just want to buy them already made:
Making your own Ang Pow has turned out to be a wonderful activity to do with friends and family. I spent five hours writing this article and a further two hours were spent watching my cousin, Hannah, cutting out and colouring her red envelope which she kindly gave to me. It was wonderful to see her so engrossed and enjoying herself in the activity. The project aroused her interest and curiosity about the origin of the red envelopes, and she continually asked questions. It was a beautiful bonding time for us as I related the history and use of the red envelopes in Chinese culture. I have to admit that in the early days of the Feng Shui Store, it seemed as though Josephine was running a ‘sweatshop’ as Hannah would help out by placing the i-Ching coin in the red envelopes. Hannah became one of our cherished team members during the hectic Chinese New Year buildup.
Whilst we encourage you to make your own but if you really want to buy them, you can follow this link
To make your own red envelope you will need:
- You’ll find two versions below, one you can print straight from your colour printer and the other you can colour in yourself or print onto red paper. This is a delightful project for children, and if you are a school teacher, please feel free to print this out and use in your class. We would request please that you do not alter or change any of the text.A sheet of white paper, red paper or paints/pens for black & white version.
- Pritt stick glue or paper glue.
You should click here first to download the printer friendly version otherwise you will be printing all our banners and wasting your valuable ink cartridge. Print this onto a sheet of white or red paper, Cut out the red envelope and fold it along the dotted lines as shown below.
Straighten the packet out as shown below, and turn it over so you are looking at the side with the image, as in the diagram below.
Now fold over flap A and apply some glue along its right edge. Fold over flap B and press it firmly onto the glued edge of flap A. Apply a little glue to flap D and press it firmly onto flap B & A.
You now have your Chinese red envelope! Flap C is the top and this is where you should place the money in and then seal it after.
Chinese New Year 2018
Chinese New Year (according to the lunar calendar) starts on the 16th February 2018 and will be the year of the Yang Earth Dog (Wu Xui). The event is celebrated by Chinese all over the world, by people from all walks of life and all ethnicities. Chinese New Year denotes new beginnings and an opportunity for a fresh start. This is a period of celebration, reunion, forgiveness, sharing, and thanksgiving. The 16th February will be the date you would celebrate Chinese New Year with Ang Pows, fireworks, Dragon and Lion dances, etc. The 16th February is not the date you would place your 2018 cures and enhancers in Feng Shui philosphy. Instead, your cures and enhancers would have been setup on the 4th February 2018.
The Lunar Chinese New Year Day differs from the Solar (Hsia) New Year Day, which will be 4th February 2018. The lunar calendar plans the days of the month according to the cycle of the moon whereas the solar year is governed by the sun. Although the Chinese solar year starts on a different date from the western year, the theory of how the year is calculated (how long it takes the earth to go round the sun) is the same. The lunar cycle lasts approximately 29.5 days, and for the start of the Lunar New Year to not be too far removed from the Solar New Year, the Chinese insert an extra month. This tact is called an ‘intercalary month’ and occurs once every few years and is why the Chinese New Year Day falls on a different date on each of the two calendars.
While the Solar (Hsia) calendar starts on the New Year at the beginning of Spring and falls on the 4th February, the Lunar (Yueh) calendar marks the New Year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. In 2018, Lunar Chinese New Year, also called the ‘Spring Festival’, falls on 16th February 2018 which is the New Year celebrated by all ethnic Chinese. The Solar New Year (4th February 2018) is not celebrated at all and only used for Feng Shui placement.
© Daniel Hanna, Feng Shui Store 2017
Are you really prepared for 2018?
Visit the pages below for further details on 2018 Chinese New Year etc.
Chinese New Year 2018 ** Checklist for Chinese New Year 2018 ** How to make your own Ang Pow **Chinese Talismans for 2018 ** Chinese animal predictions for 2018 ** Flying star Xuan Kong 2018 ** Avoid the fury of the Grand Duke, three killing 2018 ** Chinese New Year world time converter 2018 ** 2018 Cures and enhancers kits ** How to take a compass reading ** How to determine your facing direction ** Feng Shui software ** Feng Shui resource ** 2018 Tong Shu Almanac Software ** Feng Shui Blog ** Chinese culture **