Happy Lunar New Year everyone! In case you didn't know, last Saturday was the last day of 2016 according to the lunar calendar. The event coincides with one of the biggest festivals in Asia. Just like decorating trees and exchanging gifts for Christmas, the Lunar New Year also has its own customs and rituals. For example, people make dumplings to collect wealth and light firecrackers or fireworks to drive away monsters. As a company with strong bonds to China, we organised our own festivities and everyone received a lovely red envelope (or red packet) to celebrate Chinese New Year.

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Here’s our Melbourne team looking proud with their red envelopes.

But what are red envelopes you ask? You may remember an old HSBC advert depicting a grandfather giving his grand-children red packets for Chinese new year. A red envelope (红包, pronounced as “hong bao” in Mandarin and 利是, pronounced as “lai see” in Cantonese) is a monetary gift that is given on special occasions (including but not limited to the Lunar New Year). For example, one may receive red envelopes for their wedding or the birth of a child. The envelopes containing the money are generally red, which in many Asian cultures symbolizes good luck. The amount of money you receive largely depends on the occasion, your relationship with the person who’s giving it to you and the amount you’ve given them.

That said, there are certain standard practices. For example, the number 8 is considered a good number because its pronunciation in Chinese is similar to 发 (pronounced as “fa”) which means “have more wealth”. Conversely, people generally avoid amounts with the number 4 such as 40 or 400, because 4 sounds a bit too much like the word death.

As in the HSBC advert mentioned above, red envelopes are traditionally given by elderly relatives or married couples to younger children and teens. The practice first started in the Qin Dynasty where people would thread coins with red strings and put them under a child’s pillow to protect them from monsters, sickness and death. The custom has since evolved quite significantly, particularly with the advent of digital money. Cash alternatives, especially digital wallets, have become extremely popular in China in recent years, and digital red envelopes are the new trend. It is said that for the Lunar New Year in 2016 over 8 billion red packets were sent on WeChat, the most popular chat app in China. And this doesn’t include any red envelopes shared via competing platform AliPay, which would have been quite large as well.

When WeChat first launched the feature in 2014, it quickly became one of its most popular. This is unsurprising as nowadays red envelopes are no longer given only by older relatives; friends and colleagues will also share and receive red packets for special occasions.

Given their popularity, businesses have also started using red packets to promote their brand and attract customers. Many offer red envelopes as ‘lucky draws’ or use them as a form of discount. For example, a typical way of giving red packets on e-commerce site Tmall is to give a 10 dollar branded red envelope to customers who can redeem it the next time they make a purchase from that particular Tmall brand.

Celebrations for the Lunar New year aren’t over yet so if you want to participate and receive or share some good luck, get on it while you still can. We wish everyone the best of luck in this new year and hope you’ll receive a great many red packets!