Lucky money originated from the ancient “copper cash" (round coins with a square hole which were made mostly of copper) which some people in those days used for creating and preaching sorcery. Over many years of development, lucky money has become money wrapped in the red envelopes. But its symbol of love and blessing has never changed.
Why do the Chinese Give Red Envelopes?
The customs about Chinese red envelopes, called Yasuiqian in Chinese, say that they are reputed to help avoid evil and ghosts, as well as promise good health. It is considered that if young people receive lucky money from the older generation, they will have good luck in the New Year.
In years gone by, with medical shortages, children tended to die young; therefore elders gave children one hundred pieces of copper cash after the children greeted them, hoping that it could protect them against demons. It is said that the copper cash was circular in shape with a square hole threaded with a red rope for kids in the Ming and the Qing Dynasty. Nowadays, since the period of the Republic of China, people wrap copper coins with red paper for best wishes.
These days, red envelopes, "hongbao"红包 in Chinese, are red packages containing new paper money and are given during festivals and on special occasions. The monetary gift is usually presented on New Year, but also on special days such as the birth of a baby, when a baby reaches the age of one month and a hundred days, and for weddings. Chinese people believe the lucky money will keep them safe and blessed.
How much to give
Lucky money, for the elder, is looking forward to the children’s sound health; for the young, it implies an expression of blessing. The amount in the red envelope varies from tens to thousands of Yuan. The more intimate the relationship is, the more valuable the red envelope is likely to be. Naturally it depends on their personal economic situation, and the main idea is simply to add joy to the festival.
Alipay and WeChat Red Envelope
Moving on from the traditional red envelope, there is a new way which is far more appealing for smart phone users, and that is using apps such as Alipay, WeChat and the Weibo Red Envelope. Digital red envelopes especially offer excitement and value on the Eve of Lunar New Year, as users can win red envelopes by shaking their smart phones during the time that the Gala is being televised.
Tips about lucky money:
1. Please don’t open red envelopes on the spot, because it is impolite.
2. The Red envelope is also called "lishi" 利是 in Cantonese speaking areas.
3. Pick a lucky number as the amount for the red envelope. In Chinese culture, good things come in pairs, so an even number is very favorable. The numbers two, six and eight are popular, but the number four is an exception, because its pronunciation is similar to the word for “death” in the Chinese language.
4. The amount of lucky money is usually an integer; people like to exchange the notes of consecutive numbers which means that they are wishing for people to get promotion at every step.
5. If you want to give a large amount in a red packet, you may as well change some new 100 Yuan notes.
6. Say “Best wishes for the New Year!” when you give lucky money.
7. People like to exchange some new cash to put in the red package, so there is always a long line in the bank before New Year’s arrival.