The Chinese New Year Red Envelope is one of the favorite Chinese traditions for children since on New Year's Day, they are given the shiny things with money inside! Instead of Santa Claus or presents under the tree, you get your glossy red envelope. Kids of all ages quickly learn the words for red envelope: "hong pao" in mandarin, "lai see" in cantonese.
The color red for the Chinese represents good fortune, it is the lucky color. Traditionally the envelopes have been adorned with gold letters and messages of prosperity or Chinese lucky symbols like the Chinese dragon, the phoenix, Chinese Lions, the Chinese Wise Men of wealth, the Chinese Zodiac animal for that year, etc.
Now-a-days, in keeping with the times, you find anything from Mickey Mouse, Pokemon, Hello Kitty and Spider Man on the red envelopes.
Who gets the Red Envelopes?
Technically, all unmarried children get hong paos during Chinese New Year from grandma, grandpa, uncles, aunts, mom and dad of course. Also not uncommon is for close friends and neighbors to give red envelopes to the children during the festivities.
Who gives and how much really depends on the personal relationship and the age of the children in the same way that Christmas presents are given in the west to your own kids and the neighbor's kids, your nephews and nieces, etc.
So a common Chinese New Year Greeting that awaits any adult visiting a household with kids will be: "Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái, Hóng Bāo Ná Lái!!!", meaning "Best wishes for the New Year, may I have my Red Envelope please?"!!! Here are some more common Chinese New Year Greetings and how to wish someone a Happy New Year.
You should avoid any amounts with a "4", this is the "bad luck" number for the Chinese as the pronounciation resembles that of the character for "death". "8" is of course the lucky number, but sometimes impractical. New, crispy and shiny bills are best, try to avoid wrinkled and old bills and coins.
Red envelopes are also given by companies to their employees as a year-end bonus and to their customers to thank them for their business.
You will also see red envelopes being "fed" to the Chinese Lion's mouth during the many Lion dances, this is supposed to bring good luck and is considered a donation for the martial arts troupe setting up the performance.
Let's Make Some Chinese New Year Red Envelopes
Red envelopes are inexpensive and found easily at your local Chinese grocer or online. (See some offers below) It is also very easy to make your own, all you need is some red paper, scissors and glue and a black or gold marker to decorate with some lucky symbols. Here we show you how:
Just a few simple steps, a little folding, a little cutting, a little glueing, write a good luck message in Chinese and ready! The following illustrations take you step by step:
- Sheet of Red paper cut in quarters, each quarter will make one envelope
- Black or Gold Marker
- Fold short side 1) about 1/4 inch or so
- Fold in half 2)
To form the flaps that will glue the envelope together:
- Fold 3)
- Cut 4)
Turn it over, we will trim the corners so they don't get in the way when we need to fold and form the pocket
- Cut 5)
- Cut 6)
- To make the overlapping flap that will close the envelope, we cut stripe 7)
- Apply glue to both flaps that form the bottom and side of the pocket 8)
- Stick the ends together forming the envelope
- Using a black or gold marker, write on the front of the pocket a message of good luck and fortune for the new year.
- We show you here some easy Chinese Symbols and how to draw them one stroke at a time.
- Your Chinese New Year Red Envelopes are ready, fill them with money and pass them around!!!
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You can decorate easily with traditional or battery-operated lanterns, paper cuttings, lucky coins and banners to add a splash to the celebrations!
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