Giving Ang Bao: Your Guide to the Chinese New Year Red Packets

rows of red Chinese New Year lanterns

The Chinese New Year is a wonderful time in Singapore as families gather together for a great feast and to wish a year of good fortune upon one another.

Also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, the Chinese New Year is a holiday tradition meant to honour both heavenly deities as well as beloved familial ancestors.

Following the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year typically begins with the new moon that occurs between the end of January and the end of February. It lasts for about 15 days until the full moon arrives with the Festival of Lanterns.

While the calendar’s structure wasn’t static (it was reset according to which emperor held power and varied from one region to another), there are some Chinese New Year customs and traditions that have stood the test of time have been unchanged for quite a while.

Aside from the traditional family Reunion Dinner, putting up festive decorations and lighting up fireworks and firecrackers, the Chinese New Year red packet, or the ang bao, is a staple of the lunar new year celebrations.

ang bao packet
Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

This red packet symbolises the new year well wishes of the giver for its recipient — it’s given by the married members of the family to the unmarried (mainly the children) relatives. Considered as a way of sharing their wealth and blessings to the young ones, the ang bao carries with it a deeper message that should be more valuable than the money inside the packet.

Nonetheless, for those who will be giving out this gift of fortune and luck, it requires a lot more thought to this Chinese New Year custom than just sliding money inside the envelope. With some expectations to meet and your reputation that could be at stake, you may have spent a considerable amount of time wondering how much ang bao to give. What are the proper amounts and ang bao rates to give? Is there an official ang bao etiquette to follow?

The 2021 Ang Bao Rates

It’s believed that the tradition of giving out red packets originated from the practice of giving “ya sui qian”, which is money meant to ward off evil spirits and protect the recipient from sickness and death. Knowing this particular tidbit of information can be a guide for you to determine how much ang bao to give to different family members.

According to a poll by Channel News Asia, 33% of the respondents said they were inclined to give $10 and above in ang bao for children, while 21% were going with $8. On the other end of the spectrum, 31% said they will be giving $2, and surprisingly (since odd numbers are usually not favoured) 15% voted for gifting $5 in their ang baos.

ang bao rates
Source: Seedly

Honeycombers Singapore states that there isn’t a strict rate to be followed, and that the amount of the ang bao to give usually depends on how close you are to the recipient. They did mention that ang baos can range from $6 and $1,000. That said, parents, in-laws and grandparents should receive the most as a sign of respect ($250 is a safe amount to start from according to Seedly).

For your own children and siblings, you can prepare about $50 to $200, while your cousins can get $10 to $20. Make sure that you reserve a couple of extra $2 to $8 ang bao packets for distant relatives or children of friends.

It would also be a thoughtful gesture to give ang baos to the migrant worker that cleans your block, maids of relatives, security guards, or other public workers. Seedly suggests ang bao rates that are anywhere from $5 to $10.

Are there amounts to avoid for the ang bao packet? 

While it is not an official rule, many people refrain from giving odd number amounts like $5, or $7, especially if the recipient is partial to Chinese traditions — the older generation usually don’t consider odd numbers to be auspicious. As much as possible, go for the even numbers — the Chinese believe these to be associated with good fortune because of a traditional saying that goes, “good things come in pairs.”

Also, an amount with the number four is taboo, as it’s traditionally associated with misfortune and death. Instead, try to give ang baos with a denomination of eight ($8, $18, and so on) since eight is perceived as a lucky number. It sounds like the Chinese way of saying “fa”, which symbolises wealth.

What’s the minimum ang bao amount I could give?

As you have seen above, the ang bao rates are dependent on familial hierarchy — those who are closest to you will receive higher ang bao rates (considering you’re most likely responsible to protect them from sickness and death).

And while these are the results of polls and surveys, there’s no fixed guideline on the minimum amount that you should give. You should then consider your financial capacity, and make sure to give within your means.

Your Income Bracket and the Ang Bao Rate Card 

ang bao rates based on income bracket
Source: Seedly

As we try to establish the determining factors on how much ang bao to give, there have been more and more unofficial guides and rate cards that have the tendency to shift the focus away from the deeper meaning of this beautiful Chinese New Year custom. Keep in mind that by setting these guidelines, we might be placing unrealistic expectations or leading the younger generation to judge a relative based on the ang bao rates they’ve given.

It’s therefore essential to determine that amount that is ultimately based on your generosity and goodwill, and to explain to our younger family members the message behind all the Chinese New Year customs. This ensures that everyone welcomes the coming of the Chinese New Year in joyful celebration.

Final Notes: How Much Ang Bao To Give

One of the best ways to communicate your well wishes for the coming Chinese New Year is through that red ang bao packet. It’s understandable that you’d want to know how much ang bao to give, and what amount most people find acceptable. With ang bao rates having a wide range from $2 to $1,000, it will be then up to you to decide based on the factors mentioned above.

No matter the amount you choose, what’s important is that your ang bao packet carries with it your desire to share your good fortune with the ones you love and care about.

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Katherine Sng

Katherine Sng

I am a single mother living in Singapore. I am an advocate of living a healthy lifestyle through exercise; eating right; keeping a positive and youthful outlook of life; and, to live vicariously while you can. When not spending time watching Bubba grow, I am catching up on the latest news and entertainment gossip. I strongly believe that empowerment is possible for anyone, as long as they believe in themselves and the people around them.

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