Chinese Red Envelope Tradition Demystified

Red Envelopes (“Lai See” in Cantonese) are small red envelopes with gold auspicious writing containing money.  They are given at Chinese New Years, birthdays and weddings.  The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

Who receives Lai See?

The general rule of thumb is that Lai See is given from a senior to a junior.

Many Rules to Follow

Children and single people are the main recipients of Lai See, therefore, they are always looking forward to this special occasion.  However, for many newlyweds (especially those with big families), giving Lai See can be a daunting task.

There are many rules behind the proper way of giving Lai See.  This article will demystify all the rules for you.

How much money to put in the Lai See?

The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs; for instance 80 and 88 are both lucky numbers.  Avoid odd-numbered money gifts as odd numbers are traditionally associated with funerals.  The number 4 should also be avoided as the pronunciation of the word “four” resembles that of the word “death” in Cantonese.

The amount of money normally ranges from $5 USD to $20 USD.

How to give Lai See

There are hierachies and seniority which every Chinese must follow when it comes to giving and receiving the Lai See monies.

  1. Grandparents/parents give their grandchildren/children (no matter if they are single or married).
  2. Grandchildren/children CAN give the Lai See monies to their grandparents/parents to show their respect.
  3. Bosses/managers/supervisors give to their employees/subordinates (no matter if they are single or married).
  4. Older siblings give to the younger ones (no matter if they are single or married).
  5. If a younger sibling is married and the older one is still single, the married couples do NOT give the Lai See monies to the older sibling.
  6. If all the siblings are married, no Lai See monies is involved.  They may only give to each other’s little ones.
  7. Among friends, the married one CAN give to the one who is still single.
  8. If all friends are married, just give the Lai See monies to each other’s little ones.

How many Lai See to give out?

For married couples, the giver always gives out 2 envelopes which represents his/her spouse is still alive.  Otherwise, there will be only 1 envelope.

Exchange of Gifts

In addition to Lai See, when someone visits his/her family and/or friends, there will also be the exchange of gifts.  Some gift ideas include traditional (dried shitake mushrooms, dried scallops, shark fins) and modern (candies and Danish cookies).

Order of Visits

During the Chinese New Year, the juniors will always pay visits to the senior in the family first.

For example, grandchildren with their parents will visit their grandparents first.  The parents will bring along a gift.  An extra red envelope is included in the gift to show appreciation.  In turn, the grandparents will give the Lai See to their children and grandchildren. 

Optionally, grandparents could pay a visit to their children and grandchildren afterwards.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just desire to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post is simply spectacular and i could assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

  2. But who CREATED the whole tradition? I mean… I looked it up on a couple other sites but they all have different stories 😐 This one had a devil and it made sense, but I think that I can do better than that. I have a worksheet on Chinese New Year for my school and I want to get a good grade so I need to find out who created the tradition. But anyways, thanks for all the information! It really did help. 🙂


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