Ang Baos: How much is enough?

lead image

Chinese New Year is about food, family and that little red packet of good tidings. How much should you put inside? theAsianparent investigates and here's what we found...

It's that time of the year again to give and receive red packets! Commonly referred to as 'Ang Baos' locally, these envelopes containing money gifts are a symbol of good luck. They are supposed to ward off evil spirits with their auspicious red colour.

While this Chinese tradition has been around for centuries, one tricky question remains for every ang bao giver each year. How much money should be enclosed in each ang bao?

Customary roots of the Ang Baos

The tradition of ang bao giving is carried out by married individuals and elders as a symbol of well wishing and good luck to juniors and unmarried singles.

In the old days when marriage takes place at a younger age, the Chinese believe that you achieve adult status when you get married.  Hence, with this newfound status comes the privilege to distribute ang baos to those who still remain single or are younger.

The monetary gift included in ang baos is largely dependent on the relation between the giver and receiver. Immediate family members are typically given the more generous ang baos, followed by close relatives, friends, distant relatives then children of less familiar acquaintances.

The Chinese generally believe that even numbers represent that things will be well rounded; hence the amount in ang baos are usually in even numbers.

Odd numbers are traditionally associated with monetary offerings for funeral wakes, and should be avoided for joyous occasions such as Lunar New Year, wedding banquets and babies' full month celebrations. Dollar notes used in ang baos should also be fresh banknotes as it symbolises the new beginning and new wealth in the New Year.

The Cantonese, in particular, believe that giving used notes signifies the receiver is unimportant and that he or she would be forgotten.

Across all dialect groups of the Chinese, parents are no longer required to give ang baos to their children who are married. Instead, these children are expected to give ang baos to their parents to thank them for the years spent on raising them and to wish them longevity.

A Melting Pot of Traditions

As a Hokkien raised by a strict Cantonese grandmother, I would (and still do) scoff at ang baos containing $4. Because I was taught that it is an inauspicious number.

However, being married to a Teochew man, my mother-in-law has an annual habit of giving $4 ang baos to all the children. Her reasoning behind it is that '4' is a good number for Teochews. Because it represents that everything will go smoothly (事事顺利, 事事如意) for the receiver.

Traditional Teochews apparently also like to hold their weddings in April – the fourth month in a year – for the same reason. It is for these same reasons that many Singaporeans have created their own practices regarding ang bao gifting.

Being a country with many cultures, it is not uncommon to have marriages between two different dialect groups. This has led to traditional practices being modified or ignored. Firstly, peers do not commonly gift each other ang baos for the Lunar New Year even if one is married.

Our society's westernised behaviour views all peers as equals. This, regardless of marital status, instead of married individuals being of a higher seniority.

Many parents also continue to give their married children ang baos. Because family units are considerably smaller compared to several generations ago. With the perpetual rise in living costs, they feel that their festive tokens would be of an aid. Especially in helping their children cope with the financial commitments of having their own family.

Young families who no longer subscribe to their parents' beliefs are also giving out ang baos. These contain 'inauspicious numbers' that would have been disapproved of a few decades ago.

Is there a standard rate?

During good times, it was common to receive ang baos with a minimum of $6. But the years with economic recession saw ang baos reduced to just $2 each. It was a common amount and there was no judgment. That's because most were suffering the same effects from the economic downturn.

A survey on theAsianparent Facebook page showed that our readers typically give out ang baos from $2 to $ 80 to children.

The number '4' was avoided by many parents due to its similarity to the word 'death' in many dialects. But the younger generation thinks of it as just a number and holds no taboo towards it.

At the end of the day, it does not matter how much you give in your ang baos. As long as it is what you can afford financially. True family and friends are more interested in getting together to celebrate the new lunar year; than with how much is given to them in each ang bao.

As long as you gift each ang bao with sincere blessings and a joyous heart, the monetary factor is just an added bonus.

How much ang bao do you give your kids during Chinese New Year? Share with us by leaving a comment below!

Also read: Ang Bao babies at Mt Elizabeth

Got a parenting concern? Read articles or ask away and get instant answers on our app. Download theAsianparent Community on iOS or Android, now!

Written by

Shelly Sim