As Lunar New Year approaches, here’s what you need to know about the “hong bao”, also known as red packets.
Giving money during Chinese New Year is lucky for the person getting the money, and for the person giving the money. In fact, you get double the luck back!
Not sure about hong bao-giving etiquette? Here’s all you need to know.
Dr Lim Lee Ching, 42, vice-dean at the School of Human Development & Social Services at SIM University, says there is “no rule” in terms of the amount to put into a hongbao.
“Giving hongbao is a gesture – it symbolizes a blessing – and not a transaction, although many Singaporeans seem to think otherwise,” he says.
NEXT: Should I give different family members and friends different amounts? →
It’s not necessary, perhaps even impractical to give the same amount to everyone.
Dr Kang Ger-Wen, 43, course chair for Chinese Studies in Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities & Social Science, suggests that the amount for a family member versus, say, a colleague’s child, should be different.
“Because in Chinese tradition, especially in Confucianism, love to a close family member and to a friend should be different,” he explains.
NEXT: So who gets how much? →
$2 each if they’re babies or youngsters, $10- $20 to kids you know well, such as the best friends of your kids.
To people you see often for services like your manicurist or hairdresser, give one extra payment. So if your manicure normally costs $30, give them $38 – 8 is a lucky number in Chinese tradition.
In summary, give as much as you like, but don’t feel like you have to shower on the cash. It’s about giving luck more than money.
NEXT: Does a younger sibling who’s married have to give a red packet to an older sibling who’s not? →
In general, older people give to the younger ones, and married people give to unmarried individuals (if you’re over 40, feel free to give red packets as well as you’re a “responsible adult”), so this contradiction can be a source of awkwardness.
Personal experience aside, he says there is “no etiquette” to this. It’s really up to the receiver. After all, in Dr Kang’s words, “we do not need to give hongbao to those who are able to earn a living for himself or herself”.
NEXT: Is there an age limit to receiving red packets? →
Dr Lim says there are no set rules for this, as it is entirely up to both the giver and receiver, as well as the nature of the relationship.
“For example, between an elderly relative and a favourite grown-up niece, the giving of a hongbao may be a symbol of the closeness they share,” he says.
NEXT: Is it rude to open a red packet in front of others? →
Both experts agree that it is rude to do so.
Adds Dr Lim: “But children will always want to, and get chastised by their parents for doing so – all in the name of festive cheer.”
NEXT: What is the minimum “decent” amount to put in a red packet? →
By Bryna Singh, The Straits Times, January 2017
Additional reporting by Pinky Chng
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