Red envelopes craze, i.e. Chinese New Year

It was early December when red envelopes pop up shops started popping up around Mongkok area. Right after Christmas was over, Fuk Wa Street where you usually buy decorations for every occasion, changed from Santa Claus and Christmas trees to red decorations and oranges. This year, CNY is coming early and so the preparations started early too.

There are few rules when it comes to Chinese New Year. You need to prepare for it first. People would clean their houses, every nook and corner. They would cut their hair, do their nails, throw away old clothes and maybe move around the furniture, you get the drill. New Year, new me.

Chinese New Year starts this year on 5th of February and don’t think it’s over on the 6th. You need to remember about some things for the following two weeks. Especially about the envelopes.

I think I will never get used to it, but Hong Kong is all about money. They love giving money to each other. Rather then gifts, money in red envelope is the most respected custom. If you’re young and single, prepare for shopping afterwards, as you would get red envelopes from all older/married family members during CNY. If you’re married like me and P., prepare to be broke after. And maybe shop before.

Red envelopes, so-called lai see, are money for good luck or blessings for new year. Number one rule of giving it here is “up->down”. At work, boss would give envelopes to employees, higher position colleagues to those with lower positions (supervisor to line worker etc.), older family members to younger ones and children. Rule number two is “married->single”. So if you’re single you queue up to get your envelope from work colleagues (even the same work position), friends, family, etc. If you’re married, be prepared to pay. Rule number three is “customer->service provider”, which for regular people mean you give money to your building security guards and cleaners, for rich people it means to give envelopes to drivers, etc. And if that was not enough complicated, there are some small exceptions, that you have to remember about.

  1. Divorced person is counted as married, not single, so they wouldn’t get any envelopes, however they also do not need to give out any, unless it’s within closest family.
  2. If you’re married, you would give two envelopes to all the closest family members/friends, as in one from you and your wife/husband.
  3. If there is a family member who is pregnant, you would give them envelope for the baby too, especially when the pregnancy is visible.
  4. If your work colleagues are older than you, but single, you are still required to give them the envelope.

The difficulty here is that at work, you are not close to everyone and sometimes it is really hard to tell who is married and who is not. Therefore, girls in my office would “gossip” about who is single and who is not, so as to not to make a faux pas.

Another point to remember is that you need to put appropriate amount inside of the envelope, usually 20, 50 or 100 HKD depending on the receiver. The highest amount is expected from your boss, as he obviously owns the most. You also need to be ready and have some envelopes with you for the whole time within 2 weeks after CNY, as you are still required to give them out in case you meet a friend.

Envelopes come in different shapes and sizes, usually in red and gold colours. White is a big no-no, as it is connected with funerals and so the Japanese money pockets I bought in AEON had to go back to storage. Usually you want to have two or three different envelope types, so you can easily recognise which one has which amount of money. You can buy them everywhere, two months in advance, however the cheaper version is to take them from banks, or get them with your shopping. A bigger pack of cup noodles can have a bonus of pack of envelopes, buying chocolates would give you another, etc. They would have company logos printed on them, but they look decent enough to give them out and they save you some hundred or two HKD.

As last year CNY was a bit of failure for us, this year I swore to be prepared, so I already started thinking about it and let’s hope it will go smoother!

Chinese New Year 2019 starts Year of Pig

5-7th February 2019


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