Sunday, February 14, 2010

Red packets

One of the most popular customs in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year is for married couples or the elderly to give out red envelopes or red packets (called hong bao or ang pow) to children and unmarried juniors. Business owners also give red packets to their employees. The red packets always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. I've been told there are special Chinese phrases to say when handing over the red packet and responses as well.

Per custom, the amount of money in the red packets should be even numbers, with the number 8 considered to be very lucky as the number 8 sounds like the word for prosperity.  Apparently, the worst amount to give in a red packet is 44. 

The envelopes are small and rectangular with auspicious characters, designs or symbols on the front. Most are red, although I've seen a variety of shades and even some pink ones. Companies use this opportunity to offer customers a set of red packets with their logo. There are also many Disney-themed red packets for sale.

I had never heard of this practice before coming to Hong Kong. My initial response when I was told that we would be expected to follow the custom of giving away cash was, "Maybe we could stay home all day and hide out." Craig over-ruled that notion, however, and this morning we duly prepared some red packets which we handed over to the Forest Hill guards we encountered, plus two bus drivers on our church route. After reading online that it was acceptable for the donor to write some words of good wishes on the reverse side of the red packet, we decided to add a short Christian blessing on the back of each envelope. Unfortunately, the messages were in English and will probably  go overlooked. Maybe next year we will be better prepared in sourcing envelopes from a local church and adding a Chinese tract.

The notion of giving children money during New Year celebrations reminded me of when I grew up in West Africa where children were given coins at New Year as well. You can read my reminiscences here.

Incidentally, Keegan's kindergarten gave out red packets to all the children with chocolate coins inside. They were replicas of 1937 silver crowns from Australia!


  1. How much money did you put in them? $8?

  2. Lauren, it has to be be bills, not coins. I won't tell you how much because you already think I'm too stingy! LOL