By Isabelle Liew
When it is finally your turn to give out those auspicious red packets during the Lunar New Year, questions abound, from how much do you give, to can you – in the name of environmental consciousness – recycle old hong baos? We ask the experts for some dos and don’ts.
1. Even Stevens
Be guided by the Chinese saying “hao shi cheng shuang” (好事成双), or “good things come in pairs”. When filling a hong bao, go for even numbers, both in terms of value and number of notes, except for the number four, says Master Lim Eng Cheong, founder of Chang Consultancy. An auspicious number like eight is ideal. “The number eight is considered lucky by the Chinese because it is pronounced as “ba”. That sounds like “fa”, which means ‘to prosper’ in Chinese. Avoid the number four as it sounds like “si”, which means death in Chinese,” he advises.
2. Seniority rules
Respect and courtesy dictate that the value of a hong bao meant for someone older should always exceed the value of ones meant for younger people, says Way Fengshui Group’s Chief Geomancer and founder, Grand Master Tan Khoon Yong. Not just that, but the amount given to someone older should increase each year. “This symbolises your wish for the elder’s longevity and prosperity,” he explains. To make it easier, standardise the amount given to younger family members. “Whether the child is your elder sister’s son or your younger brother’s daughter, they should all receive the same amount,” he suggests.
3. New Year, new notes
Use notes that are crisp and clean, and insert them into hong baos unfolded, the experts say. “Chinese New Year is (seen as) a new beginning and we like everything (to be) new during this important festival. That includes notes we put into hong baos,” says Master Lim. Stained, wrinkled or folded notes in hong baos create a bad impression and dampen the festive mood, he adds.
4. Not all hong baos are equal
Even if you are environmentally conscious, resist the urge to reuse or recycle leftover hong baos. Pay attention to the design on the packet so you don’t inadvertently use one featuring the wrong Zodiac animal, which demonstrates “ignorance” and a lack of awareness around the new year, says Master Lim. Grand Master Tan also points out that some hong baos actually bear greetings for weddings and birthdays, and aren’t appropriate for Chinese New Year.
5. The art of receiving
When you receive a hong bao from an elder, accept it with both hands and don’t forget to say thank you. And however excited you might be, never open a hong bao or even sneak a peek until you’re back home because it is really rude, says Master Lim.