Chinese New Year

by ParentalChoice
in Hong Kong, Holidays, Global Mobility
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Chinese New Year

One of the most rewarding aspects of living in a new location is having the opportunity to learn about the culture and traditions of your new home (or your home-for-now). For many expats, this will include learning about and navigating Chinese New Year, with all the colour, scents, flavours and traditions that it entails. assorted chinese new year decorations

The first point to note about Chinese New Year (CNY), is that, like Easter, Eid and Passover, it’s timing is determined by the Lunar calendar. Also called the Spring Festival, CNY marks the start of the Lunar New Year with the second full moon after the winter solstice. This usually occurs between late January and late February.

Celebrations for CNY are the longest of any of the Chinese cultural holidays. Lunar New Year’s Eve is usually marked with a special family gathering or banquet, and celebrations continue until the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar calendar month.

In practical terms, this all means that the Spring half term holiday for most schools in China and South East Asia will coincide with the CNY week (meaning spikes in travel costs). It can also impact on business productivity patterns and air pollution trends. Manufacturing activity is often ramped up in the weeks preceding CNY in an effort to meet targets and fulfil orders ahead of CNY. This, combined with weather patterns often leads to increased air pollution in coastal areas around Hong Kong.

Some CNY facts:

  • The Chinese zodiac follows the lunar calendar, and operates on a twelve year cycle; 2019 is the Year of the Pig 
  • CNY is traditionally a time to honour ancestors and the gods
  • Tradition dictates a thorough cleaning of the house to sweep away the past year, and make way for the incoming good fortune
  • Red is the colour most associated with CNY, as it is the colour of good luck and joy; in the myth of the first CNY, red decorations and firecrackers scared away the monster Nian; now red and fireworks serve to frighten away evil spirits and bad fortune

What are Lai See?

Traditionally the giving of red envelopes (Lai See in Cantonese, Hong Bao in Mandarin) symbolises the giving of good luck and good blessings, and in distributing them you are wishing people happiness. Chinese baby girl traditional dressing up with Lai See lucky red envelope

Who should give Lai See, and when?

Married people are expected to give red envelopes to those who are single and younger than they are. However it is a nice opportunity to show gratitude, and people often give red envelopes regardless of age and marital status. Employers will often give to employees.

Red Envelopes are given within the 15 days of CNY celebrations.

Be sure to give and receive Lai See with both hands!

What should Lai See contain?

Red envelopes should contain ‘new’ money (banks release new banknotes in the lead-up to CNY especially for this purpose). Don’t use coins, and try to use a single banknote.

The quantity should be an even number (as determined by the first digit) – the most auspicious numbers are either 8 (the homophone in Mandarin is ‘wealth’) or 6 (the homophone is ‘smooth’). Never give an amount starting with the numeral 4, as it is considered very unlucky – the homophone for 4 in Mandarin is ‘death’ or ‘die’.

Suggested amounts:


How Much?

Security guard / Doorman / Cleaner / building management

$20 – $50

Helper / Driver

$100 – $500

Staff (if you’re the boss)

$50 – $500

Colleagues / friends

$20 – $100

Waitstaff / Barista / someone how regularly serves you

$20 – $50

Hairdresser / Manicurist / Masseuse / etc

$50 – $100

Where to find Lai See envelopes?

Red Envelopes are widely available in stationary stores and through online purchasing. Many large companies will also have branded Red Envelopes available for their staff to use for their CNY gifts.

For more detail on Lai See etiquette, please see this article from Hong Kong Tatler.

For assistance with your relocation, or to talk to Parental Choice Asia about how to best support your employees’ relocations, please contact us for a consultation.

Chinese Zodiac 2019 Year of the Pig

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