Lunar New Year, on February 1 this year, is drawing closer. Chinese people around the world are preparing to celebrate this joyous occasion.

One way Chinese people like to celebrate the 15-day Lunar New Year festivities is by distributing red envelopes, or 红包 (hóng bāo).

Red envelopes are traditional gifts given mainly to children or elderly people. These envelopes contain money. But more important is the message behind the envelope. 

Red envelopes are used to wish good luck to the recipient. Though they are usually given during Lunar New Year, they are also now being given out during other special occasions like Christmas or weddings.

Over the past decade, Tencent’s app WeChat, or 微信 (Wēi xìn), has practically become a staple on Chinese peoples’ phones. 

Due to its extreme popularity, Chinese Americans who have family in China frequently use WeChat to communicate with their loved ones back home.

Unfortunately for Americans, Lunar New Year usually falls during a time when it is inconvenient to take leave from work or school. As a result, many Chinese Americans cannot go back to China to celebrate Lunar New Year. This is even harder for a holiday that emphasizes the importance of family

Luckily, WeChat solves this problem with voice and video call options. In January 2014, during a Chinese New Year annual gala, WeChat Red Packets were unveiled. The digital red envelopes only further authenticate a virtual Lunar New Year experience with family.

How can you partake in this modern tradition?

Once you’ve opened a WeChat chat window, press the “+” button to the right of the text box. This should prompt the “Red Packet” button to pop up in the bottom left corner of the menu. Enter the amount of renminbi you would like to send. 

If this is done in a group chat, you also need to enter the number of people who can claim the Red Packet. The money will be randomly split between the quantity you enter.

Image tutorial on how to send a Red packet. Screenshots taken by author.

Upon opening the Red Packet, the receiver will see a screen that wishes them well before they are prompted to open it.

Image tutorial on receiving a Red Packet. Screenshots taken by author.

As a warning, if you live outside of China, you cannot claim the money in these Red Packets directly. The money transfer system uses Chinese banks, and foreign accounts cannot connect to the Chinese bank system. 

However this can be circumvented if you have a very generous Chinese relative who is willing to connect their bank account to your WeChat account.

With the assistance of WeChat Red Packets, Lunar New Year can be celebrated to almost its full, original extent.

Do you plan to celebrate Lunar New Year this way? How else will you celebrate the Year of the Tiger? Let us know in the comments below!

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Chris Jiang

Chris is a student attending the College of William & Mary studying public policy and public health. He hopes to share the joys of Chinese culture with the rest of the world.
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