A red envelope (紅包, hóngbāo) is simply a long, narrow, red envelope. Traditional red envelopes are often decorated with gold Chinese characters like happiness and wealth. Variations include red envelopes with cartoon characters depicted and red envelopes from stores and companies that contain coupons and gift certificates inside.

How Red Envelopes Are Used

During Chinese New Year, money is put inside red envelopes which are then handed out to younger generations by their parents, grandparents, relatives, and even close neighbors and friends.

At some companies, workers may also receive a year-end cash bonus tucked inside a red envelope. Red envelopes are also popular gifts for birthdays and weddings. Some four-character expressions appropriate for a wedding red envelope are 天作之合 (tiānzuò zhīhé, marriage made in heaven) or 百年好合 (bǎinián hǎo hé, happy union for one hundred years).

Unlike a Western greeting card, red envelopes given at Chinese New Year are typically left unsigned.