Celebrating Chinese New Year with Online Red Pocket Gifts

If you haven’t marked your calendars, Chinese New Year (or the Lunar New Year), is on February 8th celebrating the Year of the Monkey!  Also called the Spring Festival, it is the most important, if not the most celebrated holiday for Chinese people lasting fifteen days commencing on the night before Chinese New Year’s Day with the annual reunion dinner with families and ending on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival.  For Chinese people, the Lunar New Year is a big deal that comes with a long list of traditions and superstitions.  As a child some of these traditions went over my head like not washing my hair (Ew…Gross!), or getting new clothes (YES!) and my favourite: receiving lucky pockets (lai see) or red envelopes (hong bao) called  containing money (woot!).

Traditionally, lai see is handed out by married couples to single people, especially to children.  Whether it be for Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings or graduations, these lucky red envelopes symbolize good luck to scare away evil and bad luck.  My kids today enjoy receiving lai see as much as I did as a child, and they are lucky to have their poh-poh (grandmother) and gung-gung (grandfather) to live close by, along with much of my extended family to share in this tradition.  But what about those who live far away? This was the conundrum Allison Cairns faced, the brainchild and founder of the website Red Pocket Gifts (www.redpocketgifts.com).

Red Pocket Gifts is a FREE service that connects people through the tradition of red pocket gifting without the barriers of distance and geography.  Think of it as 21st century online lai see gifting by sending a cash gift along with a message and personal video all nicely packaged for you on its website.  All you need is a PayPal account to send your monetary gift through its secure site, and upload a personal video if you wish and it all gets sent to the recipient via email.  This free service is not just for Chinese New Year, but perfect for any occasion like birthdays and weddings too!  What an incredible idea!  As far as I know, there isn’t any other website that does it for you. Sure you can send a cash gift through your bank or Interac money transfer, but it lacks the personal touch that Red Pocket Gifts can provide.  Did I mention that it’s a FREE service?

I recently got a chance to sit down with the developer and founder of Red Pocket Gifts.

Photo credit: Carol F.

Where did the idea of Red Pocket Gifts come from?

AC – I am Chinese heritage and was born in Canada.  I have a very large family and have very fond memories of spending time with my friends and family, especially during special occasions, namely Chinese New Year.  It was also tradition, as a child, to wish the grown ups a happy new year by saying “gong hey fat choy” which was meant to bring them luck and prosperity in the new year.  In return, I would receive a “red pocket” (or lai see / red envelope) filled with money.  After many years, I moved abroad to work and eventually got married. I found it difficult to be apart from my friends and family, as well as keep some of the traditions that I was accustomed to as a child. I no longer had large gatherings at New Year’s and I couldn’t easily attend weddings and special occasions of my loved ones.  As Chinese tradition and culture are so important to me, I decided to create something that would help me, as well as many others in my situation, to revive the tradition of Chinese money gift giving in a personal way.

So exactly how does Red Pocket Gifts work?

AC –To get started, all you need is a PayPal account and your recipient’s email address. Once you’ve done that, you just need to select a card design on redpocketgifts.com and choose your recipient and how much you want to send.  If you choose to make it more personal, you can even upload a video of your special message.  Press send and it’s that easy to give a virtual red pocket.

Ok. I don’t have a PayPal account, so what happens with money that is in a PayPal account? Can that money be transferred into my bank account or credit card?

AC – If you’re lucky enough to receive a red pocket gift, but don’t have a PayPal account, don’t worry.  It’s very easy and free to open an account.  Once you have done this, you can link your bank account or debit/credit card and transfer the funds for free.  PayPal is accepted worldwide and a common currency for many retailers, and so you can easily use these funds directly from PayPal to purchase goods or services.  Should you wish to withdraw funds and deposit into your bank account, this is free to do and will only take a few business days to show up in your account.

Does PayPal convert the currency for you if the sender is from UK and the money is sent to Canada?

AC – Currency conversion is also done through PayPal.  For example, if you send a gift in another currency, you will be charged and pay in your local currency.  Similarly, if you receive a gift in a currency other than your local currency, you will be given the option of receiving it in the currency that has been sent to you, or exchanged to your local currency PayPal account.

Are there hidden fees or charges to use Red Pocket Gifts?

AC – There is no charge to use Red Pocket Gifts service.  There may be some fees applied to the currency converter, but doing it through PayPal is often cheaper than doing it through your local bank.

How safe and secure is it to send money?

AC – Red Pocket Gifts is not a bank in any way, shape or form.  We will never receive, handle, process or manage any cash gifts. The funds that you send to your friends and families are all facilitated using PayPal money transfer services and will be handled strictly via PayPal.

What if I send a Red Pocket gift to the wrong email address? What will happen to the money?

The sender has the transaction stored on their dashboard, and will tell you when it has been claimed.  If you notice that the gift goes unclaimed, then you may need to contact the recipient directly and have them check their spam folder or check if you have their updated email address.  The transaction the sender is approving on PayPal is a Preapproval, and not a payment. The payment is triggered once the recipient opens the gift.

This is such an amazing idea and I’m surprised there isn’t anything like this out there.  What kinds of challenges did you face creating Red Pocket Gifts?

AC – Being new to the entrepreneurial world, I made the typical mistake of thinking that this would be easy. I mean, how hard can a website be?  Boy was I wrong.  Creating a website that enables money transfers, video uploads, customised greeting cards currently does not exist today was quite the challenge.  After starting over twice, hiring three developers and negotiating for free money transfers, I finally got redpocketgifts.com completed.

With Chinese New Year just around the corner, Red Pocket Gifts is a great way of participating in the tradition of lucky pockets with those who live abroad or even within your hometown.  Check out www.redpocketgifts.com to get started on the tradition of red pocket gift giving!  Right now, Red Pocket Gifts is having a contest and is giving away an original artwork by internationally renowned artist William Ho whose work is displayed at the United Nations headquarters and in Canada’s Prime Minister’s office. To enter go to their Facebook page or to www.redpocketgifts.com.

~ Carol  (aka @bakingzen)

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