Lucky Money: Receiving My First Chinese New Year Red Envelope

(A Video)

Chinese New Year’s Red Envelopes (taken last year)

Red Envelopes: An Introduction

Ask any Taiwanese child what their favorite aspect of Chinese New Year is and I am sure their immediate response would be ‘Red Envelopes.’  Those brightly colored envelopes contain money, and not just any money: new, crisp, lucky money!!

Red envelopes are commonly given to children by parents and other relatives proceeding the evening’s feast on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Upon receiving a red envelope, children usually say ‘Gongxi’ meaning congratulations or ‘Gongxi Fa Cai.’  Parents and grandparents are also the recipients of red envelopes from working children as a sign of respect and a gesture of appreciation. 

Receiving My Very First Red Envelope 

My husband and I had been dating for awhile when he asked me to spend the Lunar New Year with his family.  I was very excited!!  I knew his family quite well by that point but it was going to be my very first time to personally experience the customs and traditions surrounding this holiday. 

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, we made our way from Taipei to my husband’s hometown located in the countryside of Taiwan.   We left behind the cold weather of the city and were greeted by the warm, welcoming sun in central Taiwan. 

My husband’s grandmother was anticipating our arrival all day.  As soon as she heard the car arriving, she made her way through the yard towards us.  I still have a mental picture of it all to this day. She walked as fast as her legs allowed her, with her cane in one hand and a red envelope in the other, while the black family dog happily made circles around her feet.

She greeted everyone and then she approached me and handed me the red envelope.  And I could tell by the thickness of the envelope that there was a substantial amount of money inside!

At first, I really didn’t know what to do.  I thought to myself, ‘Should I refuse it or should I just take it?’  But, what was the right thing to do?  I glanced at my husband and his brothers for guidance and they insisted ‘Take it, just take it.’

And I did!  I took it but at the same time I felt very guilty for accepting such a kind gesture.

Yes, I really did feel guilty.  My husband’s grandmother was 92 years old at the time and I am sure that the sum of money inside the envelope was a lot of money to her.  Plus, I was working.  According to tradition, shouldn’t I be the one showing respect and giving her one?

Pleased that I took it, she returned to her house and waited for us to come visit her.

Knowing that I couldn’t keep the ‘lucky money,’ I gave it to my husband and told him to do what he thought was appropriate with it.

He decided to include the money in the red envelope that he had prepared for his grandmother.  He did but he didn’t fool his grandmother.  She gave it back to him and told him never to do that again. 

So, with no choice but to keep the money, we decided to put it away until we bought a house. 

And that is just what we did!

When we bought our house five years ago, we found the red envelope with the new, crisp bills inside and put it towards buying our house.

And it must have been lucky money because we have made this house a home which I am sure would please my husband’s late grandmother.  

To learn more about Chinese New Year, check out my other posts:

Accommodating the Daughter-in-Laws: Preparing the Chinese New Year’s Eve Menu

Painting the Town Red: Chinese New Year Decorations (A PhotoBlog)

The ‘Nian’ (Yearly) Monster: The Legend Surrounding Chinese New Year

Welcoming the ‘New Luck’: Chinese New Year Customs and Traditions


24 thoughts on “Lucky Money: Receiving My First Chinese New Year Red Envelope

  1. I remember when I visited first time with my wife her grandmothers place. As soon as we rang the door bell she came downstairs and handed us a thick red envelope. I just accepted it as my wife had warned me of it and later that day we handed the envelope to my mother in law to return it somehow (she always finds a way to return the red pocket money).
    Up to now everytime we visit we receive a red pocket and in return we give some red pocket and honestly, I have no idea how much money has been in any of those envelope as I have never even peeked in one..

  2. This is an awesome story! I’m teaching english in Henan Provence in China and I have only heard of these infamous “red envelopes.” That is super cool that you actually got one. I think it’s a cool idea that you put the money back into her envelope and then she scolded your husband after giving it back 🙂 Great story!

  3. It’s the same here in China. Kids and teenagers can’t wait for Chinese New Year so that they can be given some cash from all member of their family. I like this tradition, although nobody remembered about us this year.

    1. Oh, no! That’s too bad! From my experience, most foreigners don’t receive red envelopes from their bosses and only Taiwanese employees get bonuses during Chinese New Year!. Most foreigners usually receive a bonus at the end of their contract!!

  4. Awww, what a lovely story! I’m glad it was in your top posts of the year, otherwise I may have missed it completely!
    They do the lucky envelopes here in Japan as well, and I do have been a recipient when I felt I didn’t really deserve it. I spent New Years one year with a coworker and her family, and she gave me and another coworker one. It thankfully wasn’t much, but such a sweet gesture. Reminds me I have to write to her now! 😮

    1. Around this time every year I always think about this story. She was a sweet woman who had a habit of touching my face. Looking back now, it was probably her way to welcome me.

      I think it is hard for us to accept red envelopes containing money because we feel that it is too kind of a gesture especially if we are working. However, refusing may be disrespectful so it is hard to know what to do.

  5. I really enjoyed this post! These types of envelopes are more for kids in Japan but the regular money envelopes are for anyone. Hitoshi and I have received several and the ones from his grandmother are the most contentious. Everyone tells her no but she swats everyone away and hands over the envelope, usually to me. We always save the money for the next trip and then try and get her presents in the meantime.

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