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‘How much should I give?’ The 8 red envelope rules of Chinese New Year

It’s a time for gifts of lucky money. But how much should you put in that red packet and who gives to who?

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PUBLISHED

The customary Lunar New Year gift of lucky money – handed out in distinctive red envelopes – is delightful for recipients but can be an etiquette nightmare for givers. Who gives? How much do you give? When do you give it?

For anyone who has felt awkward at Chinese New Year, here’s a simple guide to navigating the social minefield of red envelopes – condensed into eight simple rules.

1. You give out red envelopes if you’re married

Don’t commit the classic faux-pas of handing out one red envelope from the two of you. Both spouses give a red envelope each

2. But you’re not off the hook if you’re single

If you’re an unmarried, separated or divorced adult, you’ll still need to dig into your pockets if you don’t want the security guard or cleaner at your block to scowl at you for the rest of the year.

[See more: Year of the Dragon: Your 2024 predictions]

3. There is an exception

If you have experienced a close bereavement within 100 days of the first day of the Lunar New Year, you aren’t expected to give anything, whether you’re married or single.

4. These are the people you really must give red envelopes to

  • Children and teens, especially those related to you, but your neighbour’s kids or the little ones you run into in the lobby of your apartment building aren’t going to say no
  • People who directly report to you at work
  • Support staff at your home and workplace (cleaners, receptionists, concierges, security personnel and so on) 
  • Service providers who you would normally tip (like the waiters at your favourite restaurant or the girl at the nail salon)

5. Use your common sense

While couples are expected to hand out a red envelope each, no subordinate at work is going to be expecting lucky money from your spouse. Just from you.

[See more: Chinese New Year: 3 auspicious dishes to welcome the Year of the Dragon]

6. There’s a 15-day window for giving

The time for handing out red envelopes is from the first to the fifteenth day of each Lunar New Year, and because it’s the lunar calendar, the calendar dates will vary from year to year. After the 15th day, you’re officially home free.

7. Only hand out money in round numbered banknotes

Random amounts of money are associated with the white packets handed out at Chinese funerals, which contain odd sums in coins. Avoid this gaffe. If you’re giving money as a couple, give the same amount in each envelope.

[See more: 7 Chinese New Year traditions to fill your holiday with joy, luck and prosperity]

8. And now for the bottom line: here’s how much to give

  • Your own children or children closely related to you, like grandkids, nephews and nieces: at least 100 patacas (roughly US$12) each
  • Junior relatives, like the young cousin you only see once a year: 50 patacas (roughly US$6) 
  • Random neighbourhood kids, if you feel like it: 20 patacas (about US$2)
  • Coworkers that directly report to you: 50 to 100 patacas each
  • Coworkers that don’t report to you but are nonetheless subordinate (like the intern you pass in the corridor): 20 patacas 
  • Support staff you see every day (the regular cleaners and doormen): 50 patacas 
  • Support staff you don’t really recognise but can’t ignore: 20 patacas 
  • Service personnel (like restaurant staff) who you are friendly with: 50 patacas
  • Service personnel you don’t know, but you don’t want them to feel left out: 20 patacas
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