Traditions of the Chinese New Year – Visiting Relatives and Giving Red Packet Money

January 29th is the first day of the Chinese New Year in 2006. This year is the Year of the Dog.

My friend Ray Lee grew up in Hong Kong. I asked him how the Chinese New Year is celebrated. Here’s what he said…

The New Year is a time for friends and relatives to go visit one another. Not that you’re not allowed to visit your friends and relatives during the year, but at the beginning of the New Year (i.e. New Year’s day and the couple of days that follow) it is especially encouraged.

Red packet money: It’s money stuffed inside a red envelope, usually with a new-year-related drawing and/or writing in gold on the front. Parents give their kids red packet money on New Year’s day. Uncles and aunts give their nephews and nieces red packet money too.

And remember I said that people visit one another during the New Year? Well, the visitors will give each other’s kids red packet money. For example, if your family goes to visit my brother’s family, my brother and sister-in-law will give your kids red packet money. And you and your husband will give my brother’s two kids red packet money. Red packet money, however, is not limited to kids.

In general, as long as you’re not married and relatively young (maybe up to 30, but don’t quote me on that), you get red packet money. There has been a lot of debate between me and my co-worker Kate about whether or not someone who is divorced is eligible for red packet money. I think as long as you’re single, you’re good. When you get divorced you regain your eligibility. She, on the other hand, insists that once you get married, no matter what happens, you give up your red packet money eligibility for good. I don’t know who is right. Unfortunately, there is no “International Red Packet Money Council” to set the rules.

– While we are still on the topic of red packet money … How much money should you give? Well, it depends on whom you’re giving to. It’s common practice to walk around with several red packets in your pocket, some carrying less money, some carrying more. Then, when you run into someone and have to give their kids red packet money, you make a quick assessment of how close these people are to you, and you decide how much, i.e. which red packets from your pocket, to give them.

I will write more as I think of more Chinese New Year related traditions.

Thanks Ray and have a Happy New Year!


Come visit the Mama Lisa’s World China page for Kids Songs from China and

The Mama Lisa’s World Taiwan Page for more Chinese Children’s Songs

This article was posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2006 at 1:12 am and is filed under China, Chinese, Chinese New Year, Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, Gift Giving, Holidays Around the World, Hong Kong, Languages, Red Packet Money, Taiwan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Traditions of the Chinese New Year – Visiting Relatives and Giving Red Packet Money”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Ray wrote later…

    “Kung Hey Fat Choy”, meaning “Congratulations and Be Prosperous”, is something that people say to each other in Cantonese during the Chinese New Year. Some kids will playfully follow that with “Lai See Dow Loi”, meaning “Give me red packet money!”

    As you can imagine, parents don’t like it when their kids say it to other people. It makes the parents look bad as some people might consider it bad manners.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I noticed that people are looking to find out how much money is appropriate to give for red packet money. If anyone knows, please comment.

  3. Ann Says:

    I have received more than my fair share of lai see as a child and have since given out many myself, so here are my thoughts.

    Basically, the minimum amount can be the smallest paper denomination available, although I have never personally seen less than $2. Don’t give out change, it’s just not done. For someone who you just met or is just an acquaintance, you usually give $2. This can be given in either 1 or 2 envelopes depending on your style. Some friends and family will give $4 (divided into 2 envelopes).

    Once you hit $5 and $10 amounts, it is usually close family and relatives. Favorite uncles, aunts, grandparents, and close friends may give $20 or more. Parents will often give their own children $10-$20. But this is really dependent of your own family situation . Some families may give out more than this, others less.

    Of course, these amounts are often adjusted for income. I have close relatives on fixed incomes who could only afford to give out $2-$4 per child. Then there are friends of the family, who are well-to-do who often give out $5-$10 to every child they meet.

  4. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for writing Ann. I’m sure this will help a lot of people!

  5. Umiyama Says:

    If “Lai See Dow Loi” is considered impolite, what is the appropriate way to request/thank the giver for red packet money?

    Also, who is the guy in the costume & log beard who gives red packet money to single ladies (& children – I’m not clear on this tradition either)?

  6. Ray Says:

    There’s no appropriate way to request red packet money. You just don’t ask for money from someone else. Of course, if a working, married adult doesn’t give you (you being a kid who knows this adult) red packet money, it’s considered cheap and somewhat impolite of him.

    There’s no special way to thank the giver for red packet money. A smile and a polite thank-you will do.

    Not sure who that guy is. Could be “Choy Sun” – the God of Wealth.

  7. Umiyama Says:

    Thank you, Ray.

    I remember visiting a friend’s house when I was a child. Her grandmother was visiting from Hong Kong during CNY and she gave me a red packet after teaching me what to say in Cantonese. I remember there was a “request” phrase and a “thank you” phrase, but not the actual words.

  8. Catinka Says:

    Thank you for the information on the Chinese New Year traditions. The past two years I’ve brought different aspects of Asian arts to my watercolor students. This year it was papercuts that intrigued me. Maybe you’ll have a look at the ones I ‘ve made.

  9. Lisa Says:

    Those are cool!

    If anyone would like to see Catinka’s Chinese papercuts, they’re at

  10. Lisa Says:

    Raymond posted his question, about whether someone who’s divorced would get red packet money, on Yahoo!Answers. A person with the yahoo id of “curio5ity” wrote the following answer…

    …usually, no.

    the reason why married people give unmarried people red packets is because marriage is seen as a mark of maturity… married people give red packets as a blessing to the ‘younger’ people.

    If one was married and divorced, one would still be seen as having been through marriage, i.e. one would be seen as mature. there’s no way of reversing one’s ‘maturity level’… like one cannot get younger over the years.

    There are, however, special circumstances in which someone might still receive red packets even though that person might be single or more mature than the person giving it. adult children give red packets to their elders to bless them, and also to elders who’ve not been married before. i.e. It’s ok to give a red packet to an single/widowed relative. It’s also ok to give red packets to those in dire financial straits.

  11. ginny Says:

    why do we celebrate it chinese new year? like giving hong bao?

  12. Lisa Says:

    FYI: Hong Bao means…

    Hong = red
    Bao = packet

    Click the link for more about Chinese New Year

    I’ll post more about it on my blog in January or February.

    In 2007, the Chinese New Year starts on Feb. 18, 2007.

    2007 is the Year of the Pig.

  13. jess Says:

    You should never say Lai See Dow loi! it’s very impolite!

    In Hong Kong, to receive Lai See, you should say Kung Hei Fat Choi! and wish the giver good health and happiness and prosperity in the new year.

  14. Lisa Says:

    Ray Lee wrote to me in response to Jess’ comment:

    That’s true. However, usually if it is said, it is said by a kid, and as a joke. A kid will go, “Kung hey fat choy … lai see dow loi!” Lai see dow loi means “give me red packet money!” As you can imagine, it’s not a polite thing to say.

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