Chinese red envelopes

My husband’s business partner and his wife are having a baby this month.

They are Malaysian Chinese so I thought it would be nice to give the baby a red envelope, also known as ‘hongbao’. 

When visiting relatives in Singapore as a little girl, I knew them as ‘ang pao’ but it’s all the same thing.

You've probably worked  out that the red envelopes contain money.

In terms of etiquette:

  • An even sum is favoured
  • Avoid giving an amount with a 4 in it
  • Give notes of a single denomination, not coins. 

The tradition of giving red envelopes comes from the story of the evil spirit, Suì (祟)

Suì, a black form with colourless hands, tormented a village by sneaking into children’s bedrooms, touching them on the head as they slept leaving them ill or disabled. The parents of a boy from the village gave him coins wrapped in red paper to play with, to keep him awake for the New Year. Everyone fell asleep, including some fairies who came to protect the boy. When Suì entered the room and reached out to touch the boy’s head, the coins shone brightly, frightening Suì away. Words spread that the coins scared Sui away, and so parents put money in red paper.

My mum has a stack of them at home. If I’d planned a little better, I could have swiped one when I last visited.  Thieving ang pao is probably highly inauspicious so I looked for envelopes online. They all looked fine but I had no idea what the characters meant.

Remember when Chinese character tattoos were popular in the nineties and then it turned out that the Chinese characters which were meant to say ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Courage in the face of adversity’ actually said things like ‘Rice fried in pork fat’ and ‘Window Okay Beaver Tears’? 

I wanted to avoid a faux pas so I sent a picture to my Aunty Yian who checked that the envelope was appropriate.

The one I bought, at the top of the post, says happiness/good fortune. I was safe to proceed.

I thought it could be a fun craft project to make your own red envelopes, so here are my recommended supplies. I know the leather Aspinal envelope isn't part of the art and craft supply kit, but it was too cool an idea not to include.