Red Envelopes come in two forms: traditional paper with intricate designs and the increasingly popular digital alternative! People love Red Envelopes because they contain money. Amounts can vary from worthless 50 cent coins given to children to significant amounts of money for newlyweds. It doesn’t even have to be Chinese New Year to get (or give) them. Pretty much any party or celebration is a reason to share money with friends and strangers!
I’ve read many articles about how Chinese people aren’t generous. This has not been my experience at all! Chinese people have taken me out for fancy dinners, given me gifts and refused to accept any payment from me. Except in the form of Red Envelopes…
In the olden days people would hide physical envelopes for people to find. Today, we use apps. WeChat is a popular app that is basically WhatsApp, Instagram and PayPal all in one! Everyone in China has WeChat and uses it to communicate, share photos and pay for purchases. WeChat connects to your bank account and allows you to send money to other users, pay vendors and send Red Packets (an alternative name to Red Envelopes).
Another very similar app is Alipay. It features a particular Red Packet game that is basically a hybrid between geocaching and Pokemon Go but the treasure is money. People hide the packets in specific locations by taking a photo. Logging into the app shows you nearby locations and a distorted photo – if you find the spot and take the same photo, you get the money!
Usually, the amounts sent in digital Red Packets are small. WeChat lets you choose the total amount you’re sending and how many people can open it and share the amount. You can send amounts as little as 1 RMB ($0.14) and have ten people share it. A more common amount to send is 10 RMB ($1.4). Of course, you can send larger amounts but they will be taxed. To avoid unnecessary paperwork, leave the larger transactions to your bank.
Lighting fingers are essential to get an envelope because you need to act FAST. If you know an envelope is coming you need to prepare: stare at your phone unblinkingly, hold your finger over the spot where the next message will appear and click the second it does! You might click immediately and still be too late. Competing against locals is really hard as Chinese have perfected their envelope-clicking technique.
Getting AND Giving Red Packets is very important. It is good etiquette to send as much money as you receive. At the last party I was at, one lucky person kept getting all the envelopes! As expected, he immediately started sending out packets. Competing for Red Packets is just good fun, no one actually expects to get rich from it. It wouldn’t be polite to win large amounts and keep it all anyway.
As cool as the digital Red Envelopes are, nothing beats the paper ones. They are beautiful, usually red and are decorated in either pictures of zodiac animals, fish (they are lucky) and sometimes just best wishes written out in fancy fonts. The only catch, you are not allowed to send money in these envelopes by mail. So hand-deliver those babies and share some love and fortune with your loved ones!
The photo used is from a blog about making beautiful lanterns out of Red Envelopes! Please check it out here.