Young Singaporean parents or newlyweds giving out Chinese New Year (CNY) ang baos for the first time often have no clue about the market rates and red packet traditions.
Understandably, Chinese New Year can be quite daunting for first-timers. After all, there was a lot less to worry about when all you had to do was “greet” your elders and receive free money. But if you’re now an ang bao “giver”, then there are a ton of rules and customs to follow.
From auspicious numbers to the “ang bao hierarchy”, here’s a 101-guide on red packet etiquette for dummies.
Here’s how to get yourself prepared for the festivities:
What is the minimum amount to give?
This is the golden question on everyone’s mind. Let’s begin first by saying that most seniors will tell you it is not good practice to give odd number amounts like $5 or $7 as it’s considered inauspicious.
Amounts for ang baos should always be in pairs or even numbers, so you are going to be in good shape this Chinese New Year if you are “bao-ing” amounts like $2 or $8 or $20.
The $4 amount is debatable because although it is an even number, the “4” in Chinese sounds like “death”, inferring bad luck. So tempting as it is to give $4 — which seems an affordable amount for people you don’t know that well — it may be better to avoid this in case others take offence. That said, this may sometimes depend on your dialect group; some say that Teochews do not see “4” as inauspicious.
CNY ang bao rates by hierarchy
There is no hard and fast rule for minimum amounts. For most, this depends on your unique financial situation and how much you feel you can afford.
Of course, there are rich folk giving out thousand-dollar ang baos, but for a better idea of how much regular Singaporeans give, we spoke to a few “seasoned” couples who have some years of ang bao-giving under their belts.
Something to note is that peers do not usually give ang baos to each other (or rather, it is uncommon and usually not expected of you). This means that if you meet an unmarried, ex-classmate at a CNY gathering, it would not be weird if you did not give them an angbao.
Is there an age limit to receiving ang baos?
Although it seems age-related, it is more of correlation: whether you give or receive angbaos depends not on how old you are, but whether or not you are married.
That said, most of the unmarried people we surveyed believe that receiving ang baos in your late 30s becomes awkward and many will meet such kind gestures with “Wah, so old already – no need lah uncle / auntie”! Some draw the line even earlier, when the “kids” start earning a living on their own.
Ultimately, you should go with giving according to your comfort level, and according to your family practices. If you’re unsure, just ask your parents or your elder uncles and aunties — they would know.
Should ang baos be opened in public?
Unlike Christmas presents that are opened together under the tree, most agree that it is rude to open your angbaos in front of the giver.
So, parents who have young children receiving ang baos this year – better remind them to keep their red packets away, only opening them when you get home.
Where to get free angbao “zua”
The trend seems to be towards giving ang baos that are from banks, and better yet prominent banks in Singapore. This all sounds very flashy and materialistic, but hey we don’t make the rules, we just point them out.
Some even say that it’s not just the bank but also the account level that is meant to send out a signal to gawking relatives. i.e. giving out ang bao packets that make it abundantly clear that you are some high level priority banking customer.
Honestly, we wouldn’t bother about these subtle “flexes” during your first few years of Chinese New Year giving (or ever, actually). The easiest way to get angbao “zua” is to drop by your nearest branch where you have an account and ask if you can get some. If you have a relationship manager, they would usually help out too.
Aside from banks, many retail brands also make and give out their own unique ang baos for customers. So you might also get some from your neighbourhood petrol station or supermarket.
How much do you give during the Chinese New Year? Share your ang bao tips with us.