Filipino-Chinese

Why the Chinese Give Red Envelope Gifts (Ang Pow) for Chinese New Year

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Our daughters Shawna and Shane have grown up receiving red envelope gifts from their grandparents, relatives, and friends. It is a Southeast Asian custom and the Filipino-Chinese families have continued to practice it here in the Philippines.

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The girls in their cheongsam under a prosperity tree at SM City Bacolod,

What is a Red Envelope?

In Mandarin Chinese, the red envelope is called the Hóngbāo. It is also known as red packet. It is also known as ang pao or ang pow, depending on the Chinese dialect. The spelling does not matter because it’s just English phonetics and does not necessarily translate from the Chinese word.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Hong Bao Na Lai

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Tito Boyet and Tito Ricco of Bacolod Cupcake Cafe gifted the kids with ang pow. Meanwhile, they gave us tikoy. Look at Shane’s smile. haha She was so happy to receive a red envelope.

The practice of gifting the red envelope is popular in East Asian and Southeast Asian societies. It is a monetary gift that is given during holidays or special occasions such as Chinese New year, weddings, graduation, or the birth of a baby.

The red color of the envelope is a popular symbol for good luck in Chinese tradition. Moreover, it is a symbol that wards off evil spirits.

Gong Hey Fat Choy! Hong Bao Na Lai!
May I have the red envelope, please!

Uses of a Red Envelope

The red envelopes are gifts usually presented at social and family gatherings. It is considered money gift and “lucky money”.

During the Chinese New Year, red envelopes are given out to unmarried members of the next generation, age and income notwithstanding. In our family, it’s usually the kids and our single sister-in-law who gets ang pao from my parents in law.

Ang pao is also given during Christmas, in lieu of material gifts.

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Ang pao is a practical gift during Christmas, too. And they look good as Christmas tree decors, don’t you think?

How Much Money is in the Ang Pow?

The amount of money placed inside the red envelope usually ends with an even digit. This is in accordance with Chinese beliefs that odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals.

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Furthermore, there is also a widespread custom that money should not be given in fours. This also means that the number four should not appear in the amount, such as in 40, 400, or 444. The reason is that the pronunciation of the word four (Chinese: 四) is homophonous to the word death in Chinese (死).

For Weddings

At wedding banquets, the amount gifted is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees. Handed to the couple or the parents of the couple, the red packets also signify goodwill to the newlyweds. The amounts given are usually recorded in ceremonial ledgers for the new couple to keep. In our case, I just wrote them down in a notebook.

That is one good thing about the Fil-Chi weddings, you are pretty sure that you will not run out of food because only the invited people show up. If they can’t, they usually send proxies to fill up the exact number of seats. Plus, they usually give gifts that will cover the wedding expense.

At Work

During the Chinese New Year, it is also customary for people in authority (like managers or owners) in the workplace to hand out red packets to employees as a token of good fortune for the new year.

Moreover, red packets are also used for payments for favorable services, such as to to lion dance performers or religious practitioners.

Watch: Shawna Gives a Red Envelope to a Lion

We live at the Capitol Shopping Center, which is considered like the old Chinatown of Bacolod City. During Chinese New Year’s eve, the streets are lively with the traditional dragon and lion dances that visit the stores.

It’s a belief for luck and prosperity. The dragon dance is given by the Amity Volunteer Fire Brigade. On the other hand, the lion dance is performed by the Chamber Volunteer Fire Brigade.

How To Spend Money Gifts

I think that aside from good luck, money gifts are given as a practical gesture. Instead of giving something that people may not like, money is given in order that the receiver can pool the funds and buy something they need. Or it can be something they want that requires a big amount.

For our kids, we save their money gifts for their college fund, which we invest in mutual funds. That practice had started ever since our first daughter Shawna.

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Shane under the prosperity at Ayala Malls Capitol Central.

But now, since they know how to make computations and budget their money, they also save some for travel. Yep, family travel is part of our homeschooling curriculum, so we make it a point to go somewhere throughout the year. So the kids save up for these times

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One Chinese New Year, this is the money that the kids received.

Additionally, you may want to read this article that I wrote: Teaching Kids How to Budget Money. We intentionally taught our kids how to budget money. Whether their money is big or small, they should know how to allocate them for needs, goals, and then wants.

  • Related: Having a Family Goal

Watch Chinese New Year Traditions

Kai Lan’s Chinese New Year Celebration on You Tube. You can watch Ni Hao Kai Lan on Nickelodeon.

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 新年快乐!
Happy New Year!


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2 thoughts on “Why the Chinese Give Red Envelope Gifts (Ang Pow) for Chinese New Year

  1. This is an interesting post about the ang pao. I’ve always wondered about these Chinese red envelopes since people give them on Christmas day, too. I also love how you incorporated at the end of the post how to spend wisely (or not to spend) those money gifts.

  2. Thanks for this blog post, very informative for us who aren’t Chinese. I’ll keep these info in mind so next time we give ang pao I’d make sure to avoid giving money in fours or amount with 4 in it.😊

    My kids got ang pao last Christmas from some godparents, and I agree that it’s a practical gift. They were able to buy what they wanted to get for themselves and were very happy—dinosaur shirts for Gio and unicorn stuff for Ate G.❤️

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