A Chinese red packet is nothing but a simple red envelope in which money is enclosed. These evelopes are decorated with lucky symbols, conveying blessing of prosperity for those to whom they are bestowed. It is common to give these out on the lunar New Year. The packet is often referred as Bao in Mandarin, and is derived from the word Yin Yang (Yang denoting positive energy). The envelopes are red as that color represents blessings and prosperity in the Chinese culture.
As part of the Chinese New Year celebration, parents, grandparents, close relatives, or friends give red packets to their loved ones, such as young boys and girls or any person cherished to wish them good luck. Red packets are also given as gifts at weddings and birthdays. Nowadays, employers give red packets to their employees as a year-end bonus as well. Married persons give two red packets to their relatives (two packets represent ‘on behalf of both wife and husband’). People sign their names and include some good wishes on either side of the envelope.
How much money is to be given in the red packet? There is no limit. It depends upon the person and occasion. If the packet giver is a very close relative, there is usually a higher amount of money inside. If the relative is more distant, the money will be less. Also, if the recipient is a child under the age of 10, five to ten dollars will do.The older the child, the higher the amount is the norm.
The amount of money enclosed in the envelope also depends upon the occasion for which it is given. If it is wedding, the envelope if filled with a higher amount of money. For this reason, the Red packets given at weddings are larger in size. They also carry the monetary gift that is given to the mothers of the newly-wedded couple.
Red packets are available at all Chinese bookstores, supermarkets, and on-line stores and shopping portals.