2nd grade china unit, 2nd grade china, china unit, red envelope activities

Red Envelope Crafts for 2nd Grade China Unit

My mom friend Stella who is Chinese explains the ins and outs of Chinese Red Envelope etiquette and significance to 2nd grade kids. We did a special presentation as part of their 2nd grade China Unit that included: the Chinese invention of paper money, red envelope craft and background, Chinese silk children’s clothes, and Chinese money. It was a lot of fun!

Chinese Red Envelope Facts and Trivia

Red envelopes are used to give gifts of money.  When I was a little kid, I would get red envelopes from older relatives on holidays, my birthday, or if I hadn’t seen someone for a long time.  When I got older, I also got red envelopes when I graduated from school, when I got married and even when my grandfather passed away.  

For Chinese New Year, only married people give red envelopes away to children and young single people (one of the downsides of getting married!).  The more money you give away, the more luck you will have for the new year.  

Chinese are very superstitious.  Even numbers are thought to be better luck than odd numbers so for better luck, a person would give someone two red envelopes instead of one.  4 is a bad luck number so you never want to give amounts of 4 like $4, $40, $44 and so on.  The number four in Chinese sounds like the word for die/death.  What’s another example of a bad luck amount??  

8 is the luckiest number so if you want to give someone $8 you would put $5 in one envelope and $3 in another or whatever combination you like but not $4 and $4!  The number 8 in Chinese sounds like the word for wealthy.  

2nd grade China unit crafts, Chinese red envelope crafts

The color red is for good luck and so the envelopes are red.  When a bride gets married, she wears a red silk dress and not white.  For Chinese New Year, everyone wears a new red outfit usually made of silk.  When someone gives you a red envelope, you should take it with two hands and not one.  This is the polite way of doing it and you should never never open the envelope in front of someone.  That would be very bad manners.  Also, never put old wrinkled bills in a red envelope.  People never write their names on the outside of red envelopes so you have to remember who gave you which envelope!

There are Chinese characters on the outside of red envelopes.  On wedding red envelopes you might see the symbol of double happiness.  On the template that the children are doing, it says Food=Luck.  A friend of mine translated it for me.  Having food is so important since most Chinese have the bare minimum of food (back in the old days – pre open capitalism).

This is the printable Chinese Red Envelope craft from Martha Stewart. We combined this craft with the print out of Chinese money.

2nd grade China unit crafts, Chinese red envelope crafts


The Chinese Invented Paper Money! (And a lot of other things!)

I used to pull this information from Computer Smiths for the 2nd grade China Unit to cover about the invention of paper money:

The Song dynasty was the first to issue true paper money in 1023, and it did so at first cautiously, issuing small amounts, used in a limited area, and good for a specific time period.

The most famous Chinese issuer of paper money was Kublai Khan, the Mongol who ruled the Chinese empire in the 13th century. Kublai Khan established currency credibility by decreeing that his paper money must be accepted by traders on pain of death. As further enforcment of his mandate, he confiscated all gold and silver, even if it was brought in by foreign traders.By the 15th century even China had more or less given up paper money.

Over this period, paper notes were issued irresponsibly, to the point that their value rapidly depreciated and inflation soared. Then beginning in 1455, the use of paper money in China disappeared for several hundred years. This was still many years before paper currency would reappear in Europe, and three centuries before it was considered common.

The Greatest Power by Demi has a two page spread that include some of the inventions by the Chinese. It’s a great story with beautiful illustrations.

2nd grade China unit crafts, Chinese red envelope crafts

We used these links to print out Chinese money for the kids to play with. They cut it out and used it for the Red Envelopes. They even remembered not to put in money that adds to the number four. You could play additional games with the money:

Match the front to the backs as a match game.

Figure out how to make the money add up to the number 8 but avoid the number 4.  So 8 is good. 18 works too. 28 is fine. But 24 is bad!

chinese money

Chinese money

Silk is Another Chinese Invention (and Boys Love to Dress Up in Chinese Robes!)

Who knew that the boys would be so eager to dress up?! I think it’s because the Chinese silk dressing robes reminded them of boxers in a ring. I only caught that connection when two boys, enrobed in silk, tried to spar each other. I had to put a stop to that. A mom friend Melissa brought in these lovely clothes. It was a big hit with the kids!

2nd grade China unit crafts, Chinese red envelope crafts

Chinese Classic Dance

The 2nd graders had an earlier field trip to the local Chinese Cultural Center where they made and ate dumplings, played with Chinese Yo Yos, and watched Chinese Traditional Dance. If you don’t have that kind of resource, I found a video that covers Chinese Dance. They do a show in town but watch up to minute 9, the rest of the video is anti-Communist propaganda which the kids won’t really understand.

2nd grade China unit crafts, Chinese red envelope crafts

Grasshopper and Sensei painted this for her Chinese New Year party in Middle School that wasn’t to be.

p.s. Here are a few more Chinese New Year posts.

Chinese New Year Crafts and Activities for Kids

Chinese New Year Books for Kids

2nd grade china unit, 2nd grade china, china unit, red envelope activities

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Elle Carter Neal

    So interesting. I’d heard of the red envelopes before, but not all the details involved – especially accepting it/them with two hands and not opening them in front of the person.
    Elle Carter Neal recently posted…Announcing: Madison Lane and the Wand of RasputinMy Profile

  2. bamauthor

    I have also heard of red envelopes from my Chinese students, but I never knew all the details. This is a fascinating post…loved the history of paper money. This lesson should not be limited to second and third graders!

  3. The classical dance video is incredible! I pinned this to my global learning board – great post!
    maryanne recently posted…Music and ParentingMy Profile

  4. Giora

    Very interesting. I knew about the Red Envelope but no all the details. Regarding the bad number 4, recently a an area in Toronto decided to to have houses with the street number of 4. Chinese Dancing fro young and old is so beautiful and elegant.

    • Hi Giora,
      That is so funny that they want to have street numbers of 4 in Toronto since it has a high Chinese population. I was new to the details of the Red Envelope too. I only knew that you got them for holidays and they had money in them. My parents didn’t really celebrate it but family friends did. I hope I never opened them up in front of people though! Did not know that one!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Small Business Website: Win One from Go Daddy!My Profile

  5. Giora

    Sorry, I made a typo. They decided to have streets WITHOUT the number 4. And yes, we do have a large Chinese population here, about 500,000. Have a great weekend.

  6. Ann

    The Demi book looks great!
    Also I don’t feel so crazy now with my preference for even numbers!
    Ann recently posted…Butterfly BushMy Profile

  7. Thanks for linking to Worldwide Culture Swapper! I learned a lot from this post about Chinese good luck/bad luck numbers and can’t wait to share with my daughter. We are also doing a Chinese unit right now at home.
    Natalie recently posted…Make Your Own Chinese Toy–DragonflyMy Profile

  8. This is such a great overview and wonderful activities! That would be hard to remember who gave you which red envelope! Just a note – when my sister studied in Beijing years ago, if I remember correctly there was special money just for foreigners to use. And I remember that the faces shown on the money were of the many minority groups in China. Is that right? Thanks for sharing at the Culture Swapper!
    Leanna recently posted…World Citizen Wednesdays #34: Global Kids Beat the HeatMy Profile

    • Hi Leanna,
      YES! I remember getting special Foreigner Money when I visited China 30 years ago. I don’t remember getting so many Red Envelopes as a child as to be confused who they were from but that would be a nice problem to have!! LOL! I do remember that they were a special treat and I think I tore them open. Hmmm… my etiquette was not up to par! Thanks for hosting the Culture Swapper!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Chapter Book to Build Vocabulary GIVEAWAYMy Profile

  9. Hello! Thank you so much for linking up at the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop#9! I had a Chinese student come to my house for a Chinese New Year cultural playdate for my son, and his friends and she talked about the red envelopes; and strangely enough I gave her a card (as a thank you for her time, and effort) but she didn’t open it up right away. She later then told me that it wasn’t customary to open it up in front of me, and she apologized. I told her not to worry about it.
    Frances recently posted…Our Letter of the Day: I {31 Days of ABC’s}My Profile

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