|Offered by Singapore friend a few years ago...|
A red envelope (紅包, hóngbāo) is simply a long, narrow, red envelope with money in it. Traditional red envelopes are often decorated with gold Chinese characters like happiness and wealth. Variations of the red envelope include red envelopes with cartoon characters and red envelopes from stores and companies that contain coupons and gift certificates inside.
Unlike a Western greeting card, red envelopes given at Chinese New Year are typically left unsigned. For birthdays or weddings, a short message, typically a four character expression and signature are optional.
Some four character expressions appropriate for a wedding red envelope are 天作之合 (tiānzuò zhīhé, marriage made in heaven) or 百年好合 (bǎinián hǎo hé, happy union for one hundred years).
Why Are the Envelopes Red and Are There Other Colors?
Red symbolizes luck. Other envelope colors are used for other occasions, for example, white enveloped are used for funerals.
When Are Red Envelopes Given and Who Gets a Red Envelope?
Red envelopes are handed out to younger generations by their parents, grandparents, relatives, and even close neighbors and friends during Chinese New Year. At some companies, workers may also receive a year-end cash bonus tucked inside a red envelope. Red envelopes are also popular gifts for weddings and birthdays.
When giving someone a red envelope, use both hands to present the red envelope to the recipient. Giving and receiving red envelopes, gifts, and even business cards is a solemn act. Therefore, red envelopes, gifts and name cards are always presented with both hands and also received with both hands.
The recipient of a red envelope at Chinese New Year or on his or her birthday should not open it in front of the giver. At Chinese weddings, the procedure is different. At a Chinese wedding, there is a table at the entrance of the wedding reception where guests give their red envelopes to attendants and sign their names on a large scroll. The attendants will immediately open the envelope, count the money inside, and record it on a register next to the guests’ names.
A record is kept of how much each guest gives to the newlyweds. This is done for several reasons. One reason is bookkeeping. A record insures the newlyweds know how much each guest gave and can verify the amount of money they receive at the end of the wedding from the attendants is the same as what the guests brought. Another reason is that when unmarried guests eventually get married, the bride and groom are typically obliged to give the guest more money than what the newlyweds received at their wedding.