“This is a custom I have experienced myself. I lived in China for a few months on a scholarship through the US State Department to study Mandarin. While I was there I lived with a host family and one thing they did, that everyone in China does is give red envelopes during the Lunar New Year celebration. It’s supposed to symbolize good fortune and luck for the upcoming year. My host mother told me, “只给新钱,” or to only give clean new bills that haven’t been wrinkled or torn or clean shiny coins.”
I learned this while studying abroad in Zhuhai, China. It is a city about 40 minutes away from Hong Kong by ferry. I experienced a Lunar New Year celebration and received a few red envelopes from my host family and friends on the program.
This is a very widely practiced and celebrated custom. I feel so grateful to have experienced it in China where it originated thousands of years ago. I actually introduced my family at home to it and we do red envelopes now every Chinese Lunar New year.