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A Crash Course On The Dos & Don’ts Of Ang Bao Giving

Just how much should you give? Are new notes really that important? We answer your questions and more.

Besides reconnecting with family and ramping up the calorie count with industrial quantities of food, one of the most symbolic – and popular — practices of the Chinese New Year festivities is to gift ‘red packets’ (‘hong baos’ or ‘ang baos’).

For centuries, the Chinese have passed down this tradition of giving ang bao (each containing varying amounts of money) to their offspring. Today the practice has evolved beyond giving to your own kids, with younger relatives and juniors receiving packets too. For young couples, it’s also an opportunity to give your parents a token of appreciation this festive season.

With Chinese New Year around the corner, we thought some handy ang bao trivia would come in useful as you prepare to get into the thick of visiting the relatives.

1. What’s tradition without some folklore?

There are a few folklores about the origin of giving ang bao but here’s our favourite. Legend has it that there used to be a demon named ‘Sui’ that terrorised little children. To help an elderly couple save their child from the demon, the ‘Eight Immortals,’ a legendary group of celestials in Chinese mythology, transformed themselves into coins and produced a blinding light, driving it away.

The practice has then been followed on the eve of the Chinese New Year, where coins wrapped in red paper would be placed under the child’s pillow to ward off the demon. This was how the term ‘ya sui qian,’ which is literally translated as “demon-suppressing money,” came about.

Tip: If you’re looking to make some clever small talk this Chinese New Year, this is some next-level trivia to arm yourself with.

2. The True Meaning Of Ang Bao Giving

When it comes to ang bao giving, it’s a socially accepted norm in Singapore that married adults are expected to give ang baos to their unmarried relatives of the younger generation. Not adhering to this may result in a couple of awkward interactions moving forward. But the true spirit of this gesture lies in its intent of giving blessings and well wishes to the recipients so that they may have an auspicious start to the new year. Over time, the culture of ang bao-giving has also extended to become a way of expressing filial piety.

3. Just how much is right?

Ang baos are meant to be tokens of good wishes, so the practice itself should be straightforward. But it’s not,  largely due to the importance of “face” value among the Chinese that complicates the whole art of ang bao giving. If it happens that you gift ang baos that are smaller in monetary value than those handed out by your same-generation (tong bei) relatives, you “lose face”.

To help Singaporeans avoid this tricky situation, here’s a general guide compiled from several sources.

While maintaining face value is all well and good, at the end of the day, it should be done within your own financial ability.

[P.S. It may be useful to set a budget for this – check out our guide on how to start a budget plan you can actually stick to!]

4. Huat ah! Here’s how to make your ang bao as auspicious as possible:

Prepare the value of your ang bao in even numbers, because of the Chinese saying that good things come in pairs. The number 8 has a similar pronunciation as ‘fa,’ or ‘Huat’ in Chinese dialects, which suggests the idea of flourishing.  So, if you want the recipient of your ang bao to prosper even more, you can give denominations that end with the number 8 (for example, $8, $18 and so forth).

5. The unspoken rule about ang bao receiving

Much has been said about the art of ang bao giving. But, what about the art of receiving ang baos? There is one unspoken rule in particular that needs to be exercised diligently: DO NOT open an ang bao in front of others.

Checking out the ang bao for its contents is not only awkward for the giver, it is rude too. It may create the impression that you are looking to count the amount rather than genuinely receive the blessings. Ultimately, it is the thought that counts.

6. New or good-as-new notes: Money is still money

Ever wondered why there are long queues at the bank branches whenever Chinese New Year is drawing near? They are queuing for new notes for their ang baos. It is a long-held tradition to start the lunar new year with most things new, such as new clothes, new shoes and thus new notes. A general rule of thumb is that ang baos should not be packed with notes that are wrinkled, dirty or look old.

There is a misconception that notes need to be freshly minted, which is not the case. As long as the note looks crisp and good as new, it will serve the same desired purpose.

7. Queue early or play it smart

Another important aspect about ang bao giving is in the preparation work. From choosing the design of your ang baos, to deciding how much to put into each packet, to visiting the banks to exchange for new notes, there are so many things to be done before this simple act of blessing can be carried out successfully.

8. Skip the queue with DBS QR Ang Bao

For those of you who dislike queuing, why not try the QR Ang Bao this coming Chinese New Year. Instead of putting cash into your ang bao, you can replace it with the QR Ang Bao card by loading the desired cash amount through DBS PayLah!

With QR Ang Bao, it is tradition preserved, but enhancing it with much convenience for you. It’s also a good chance to show off to your millennial nieces and nephews how tech savvy you are.  Be the first to check out this pilot from DBS Paylah!

Here’s a simple guide on how to use the DBS QR Ang Bao:

If you’re hoping to send some blessings to your relatives who are overseas, you can also utilise the DBS PayLah! e-angbao function to send them some love.

If Chinese New Year visiting is not on the cards for you, you may want to maximise your long break with a short vacation or staycation!

Check out our Singapore Long Weekend Travel Guide 2019 for some inspiration!

This story first appeared on DBS.

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