How to Make Your Own Lucky Red Envelopes for Chinese New Year

February 15, 2018

Besides prepping a double batch of dumplings, thanking Chinese history for the notion of eating seasonally, and honing your chopstick-holding skills, what other ways are there to celebrate on February 16, the Chinese New Year? Give red envelopes.

Red to symbolize good luck and to ward off evil spirits, envelopes are traditionally exchanged on the Chinese New Year and other holidays, with money usually tucked inside. For the new year, specifically, married couples typically give red envelopes to children and single folks. Making and decorating them yourself is a simple craft, and if you learn a Chinese character along the way, more power (and luck) to you.

Always tuck a even amount of cash—odds are associated with funerals in Chinese culture. Photo by James Ransom

What you'll need:

  • Red scrapbooking or construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Gold acrylic paint
  • Soft tapered paintbrush
Photo by James Ransom

How to make an envelope

1. Fold, cut, and glue the paper into envelopes.

If you're starting with scrapbook paper (which I encourage you to, as it's a little more presentable than standard construction paper and available in so many excellent colors and patterns), fold it in thirds, pressing down along each crease with a bone folder or your fingernails.

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Next, using scissors, trim away paper on the top and bottom sides, leaving flaps in the middle fold for securing the envelope later (as depicted below).

Fold in thirds, then trim the edges to suit the size you're going for. Photo by James Ransom

Next, trim away all but a half-inch from one of the side flaps—this is where the front of the envelope will be glued to the back side. Fold over and crease the top and bottom small flaps, then glue just the bottom flap and the side one (as shown below).

Fold the remaining large flap across the envelope, pressing it into the glue-coated flaps to secure. Envelope-making, complete!

Photo by James Ransom

2. Decorate them!

There are a few Chinese characters that would make sense for depicting on this holiday:

  • fú (福): good luck and fortunes
  • gōng xǐ fā cái (恭喜发财): congratulations, prosperity, and good luck
  • xīn nián kuài lè (新年快乐): Happy New Year

I am no expert in Chinese lettering, so for the sake of simplicity I opted to depict a Fu symbol on the envelopes shown here, as it contains just one character.

With much assistance from Food52ers who learned a thing or two about Chinese in college—Connor Bower, our Advertising Operations Associate and Ali Slagle, Associate Editor—I learned the correct way to depict one (left to right, in the order shown below). Even if your character-writing skills aren't perfect (like mine), it's not hard to get something that looks about right.

Photo by James Ransom

Fun fact: Since the Chinese words for "upside down" and "arrive" are homophones, so do the phrases "upside-down fu" and "good luck arrives" sound similar. Which is all to say that more often than not, and solely for the sake of wordplay, Fu is drawn (or hung, as a decoration) upside down. Above, mine's right-side up—but simply take your phone/laptop in your hands and rotate 180º to get the idea.

The beauty of making your own red envelopes is not that it's significantly easier than buying them at a store or off the internet, nor that it's cheaper—making your own is about enjoying the process, injecting a little handmade into what's typically mass-produced, and trying your hand at an alphabet you might not be familiar with. You can stuff them with money, fruit leather (perchance untraditional, but the right shape), or kind words on note cards.

That is a tradition we can really get behind.

Photo by James Ransom

How do you celebrate the Chinese New Year? Let us know in the comments!

This post originally ran in February 2016, but we're bringing it back to usher in the year of the dog!

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

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BerryBaby February 15, 2018
Can’t even recall when I started sending Red envelopes to my sisters. I make Chinese New Year cards and tuck Red envelope inside. On New Years Eve sleep with it under your pillow for good luck. Also wearing red clothing at night and on New Years day, more good luck! Hey, it can’t hurt!
Next month, planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day...
Joy H. February 15, 2018
Well, the order of strokes in that picture is incorrect, but still impressed with the final outcome! Chinese calligraphy is not easy. =)
Madame H. February 3, 2016