Most people know that red packets are given in Chinese culture as gestures of appreciation during major life events. But as one may imagine, the tradition is a lot more complicated than just giving someone a red packet anytime something big happens in their life. Let’s look at some of the nuances involved.
Two Occasions You Must Give a Red Packet
There are two occasions in which it would be considered a faux pas not to hand out red packets.
Chinese New Year
During Chinese New Year, it is expected for you to have red packets ready to go to hand out to children, specifically children in homes that you are visiting or if you expect people to visit you with their children. So if you go to your Uncle’s place for the occasion and your Uncle has kids, you’d be expecting to have red packets for each of them.
Even if you just plan on staying home, if anyone is going to visit your home with their kids, you’d be expected to have red packets ready for them. Traditionally, you are expected to gift a red packet to a child (this includes teenagers) after they wish you a Happy New Year. The amount you give should be based on your relationship to the recipient.
In Chinese culture, you absolutely do not show up to a wedding with a red packet for the newlyweds. It would be incredibly shameful and frowned upon. How much you give is personal, but there are some objective benchmarks expected of you merely as good courtesy. Your red packet should contain an amount no less than your share of the dinner party cost.
If the wedding you are attending involves someone who gave you a red packet at your wedding, you are expected to at least match however much money they gave you on that occasion. That said, you should try to pick an amount of money that contains even numbers, particularly 6 and 8, as well as 9, since all of those are lucky. Avoid 4, which is unlucky in Chinese culture.
Presentation of the Bills
Money might have the same value no matter what, but when it comes to giving red packets, aesthetics go a long way. You certainly wouldn’t be crucified for handing someone a red packet with crumpled bills, but ideally, people would prefer for you to give them a red packet containing fresh, clean bills, straight from the bank if possible.
Situations Where Red Packets Are Not Appropriate
Red packets are considered celebratory gifts. This means they are not appropriate in certain situations, even if you are still giving money to someone. First off is funerals. Naturally, you may wish to support the grieving family with some financial aid, but that money should come in a white envelope, and the amount of money should be an odd number.
The second situation is when you are visiting a friend who is either in the hospital or recovering from an illness or injury. You could still give cash here, but not in a red envelope. In such situations, nutritious foods like fruits or other types of gifts are more common.