During the 15 days of Chinese New Year, married Chinese couples and the elders will gift red packets called 'ang pow' filled with cash to children and unmarried friends and family members as a symbol of good luck and prosperity, and traditionally to ward off evil spirits. This traditional custom is believed to date back to the Qin Dynasty where coins were threaded with red strings as a gift to the younger generation. Check our Little Steps guide to discover the traditional practices surrounding these little red packets.

 

What is ang pow?

An important part of Chinese traditions, ang pow are little red packets adorned with Chinese elements and containing money.They are typically decorated with lucky symbols and Chinese characters wishing prosperity, good fortune, long life or good health. They may also bear images of the Chinese zodiac animal for the relevant year. In Chinese culture, red is regarded as an auspicious color.

 

When do we give ang pow?

Ang pow are given out throughout the 15 days of Chinese New Year, which starts on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 till Tuesday, February 19, 2019.

 

Where do I get ang pow packets from?

Ang pow packets are widely available across the city from the beginning of January. Most banks, retail outlets, department stores and supermarkets give out packets of ang pow in the run-up to CNY. Alternatively, you can buy them from bookstores and stationery shops. With this being the Year of the Pig, do take note to avoid giving out red packets with images of the pig or piglets to a Muslim recipient due to local cultural sensitivities.

 

Who gives ang pow and who do they give them to?

Typically, ang pows are given out by married adults and the elders to young children and unmarried adults as a symbol of prosperity and good luck.

 

How much should you put in an ang pow?

The amount given is not too important as most children find just receiving ang pow to be exciting and fun. Giving RM2 to RM3 to a stranger is perfectly fine, and RM5 to an aquaintance. For friends and extended family memebrs, RM10 to RM20 is the norm, while immediate family members usually receive more, depending on the couple's budget. Auspicious numbers are favored such as RM8 or RM9, as the word eight is a homophone for fortune while nine is a homophone for longevity in a Chinese dialect. Even numbers are preferred, and most of all, avoid giving RM4 which is the homophone of the word death! A useful tip - skip the coins and stick to crisp, new ringgit notes!

 

What do I say?

You say “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (Gong-See-Faa-Chy), which means Happy New Year in Mandarin and is the most common CNY greeting in KL, or if that's too much of a tongue twister, just say Happy New Year!

 

What else?

  • Never open the ang pow in front of the giver, that's considered quite disrespectful.
  • Ang pow packets should be brand new, not reused, and ideally, the money inside should be new and crisp as well. 
  • A lot of people use their opened ang pow to decorate their homes or workspaces – good way to recycle.
  • Ang pow packets are usually red although you do tend to see various hues of vermillion, pink, gold and orange these days. At all costs, avoid choosing white as white envelopes are mostly given out at funerals!
  • Always hand the ang pow to the recipient using both hands as a mark of respect.
  • Ang pow are normally given by adults to children so some may find it rude if you allow your kids to hand them to an older person.

 

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