red envelopes


Perhaps the part of Chinese New Year that is most look forward to by children is the part where they get "red envelopes" (紅包).  Inside the "red envelopes" is MONEY!!

Just like gifts under the tree at Christmas time make American children giddy with excitement and expectation, the thought of getting a red envelope does the same to Taiwanese children. 

If you do not yet have a full-time job, you can expect to get red envelopes from your parents, aunts and uncles, as well as from your grandparents.  So, all children and many young adults (those still in college) get red envelopes.  Also, if you have children who are old enough to have jobs, you can expect to receive a red envelope too.  So, grandparents usually give and receive red envelopes, but the middle aged "sandwich" generation--those with both children and elderly parents--find themselves only giving away envelopes.

(I know that online some sites say all unmarried people receive red
envelopes despite age, but in practice here in Taiwan, this is not
true.  It seems that only non-workers--the young and the very
old--receive red envelopes.  If you work, you are expected to give.)

I've asked several of my students how much money they can expect to get in total from all of their red envelopes.  I've been told amounts as low as 6,000 NT (about 190 USD) to amounts as high as 30,000 NT (about 940 USD).  I think the average falls around 8,000 to 10,000 NT (250-315 USD). 

I also asked how much they could expect to find in one envelope.  And the typical answers I get include amounts between 800 NT (25 USD) to 2000 NT (62 USD).

How much you receive in all depends on how big your family is, how many
relatives you see during the New Year holiday, and how generous your
extend family is (which seems to be dependent on how well business went
the previous year).

I don't know how much grandparents typically receive from their working children and grandchildren.

Red envelopes are often passed out after that big New Year's Eve
dinner, but this is not necessarily the only time to gift some one with
money wrapped in red.  When an aunt or uncle comes over they pull out the red envelopes and the little ones line up to say good words to the aunt or uncle and in return they get a red envelope.  Or, when you go over to grandma's and grandpa's at some point they will pull out red envelopes to give to the grandchildren. 

In fact, just like we have the "trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat" line for Halloween, there is something similar in Chinese for red envelopes that goes like this "Congratulations and good fortune; now bring out the red envelope!" (Of course in Chinese it rhymes and sounds much better.)

Like most papers in Taiwan, red envelopes should be both given and received with two hands.

And, not to be left out of the festivities, many times, pets also get red envelopes too!  Gilby got one his first Chinese New Year.  Inside his "hong bao" (red envelope) was a 50 NT coin (worth about 1.50 USD).  The person who gave it to Gilby told me wrap the envelope around his collar (kinda like the cat above).

One more fact about red envelopes . . . . they are not always just plain red.  Often times there are blessings on them or sometimes even cartoon characters on them--again in either black or gold ink.

Oh, yes, and red envelopes are also used to gift money at weddings and on other occasions too.  So, unlike Christmas wrapping paper, red envelopes are used year round (of course if they say "happy new year" that wouldn't be true).

Photos come from flickrites who've given permission to blog their photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

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