Chinese New Year Red Envelopes and Other Stationery

Chinese New Year is coming up soon! Also known as the Lunar New Year, this holiday is a time of celebration (and a lot of food) spent with family and friends not just in China but in other Asian countries and around the world. There are many customs that are observed during this holiday, but today, we want to introduce some traditional stationery items that pop up around this time of year and show you a couple pieces we made ourselves.

Chinese red envelopes featuring different designs and even different colors!

Have you seen these vibrant red envelopes before? Hailing from China, red envelopes, or hóngbāo, contain a monetary gift and are usually given to children or single people by married couples. The color red represents good luck and is supposed to protect against evil spirits. Sometimes these envelopes are decorated with gold trim (or are completely gold as seen in the picture above) and other elaborate designs featuring the Chinese zodiac animal of the year. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to even see cartoon characters such as Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse featured on red envelopes!

Several versions of the Japanese version of red envelopes, called “otoshidama”.

Other parts of Asia also have the custom of giving money to children, but use different colored envelopes. Muslims in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore use green envelopes, because green is traditionally associated with Islam. In Japan, these gifts are called otoshidama. White envelopes are traditionally used, but now you can find them with different designs, like the ones shown above.

The Lunar New Year is still observed in Okinawa (an island prefecture of Japan) but the rest of the country actually does not celebrate it except in the different Chinatowns around Japan. Regardless, the regular New Year is a major holiday that is celebrated with family in Japan. One of the most popular customs is sending New Year’s postcards, called nengajou, to relatives, friends, and co-workers. These cards are so popular that New Year’s is one of the busiest times of the year for the post office.

These postcards come in a variety of designs. Like the red envelopes, the Chinese zodiac animal of the year is often featured, as well as characters like Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse. People can buy them pre-printed or make their own. They’re a chance for people to showcase their calligraphy skills when writing their greeting.

We decided to make our own New Year’s postcards using our favorite brush pens. Typically, these postcards will feature traditional Japanese symbols that are either associated with Japanese history or the New Year holiday itself.


Japanese symbol: Folding fans
Kanji: 謹賀新年
Translation: Happy New Year
Products used: Pilot New Brush Pen – Medium and Kuretake Zig Wink of Stella Glitter Brush Pens

The folding fans we painted here have a long history in Japan (dating back to the 6th century) and are universally recognized as a Japanese symbol.

The kanji (Chinese characters) is a standard New Year’s greeting. We found that the Pilot New Brush Pen in Medium could handle the drama that we wanted in each stroke with thicker heavier lines while still producing clear kanji.


Japanese symbol: Hanetsuki, Japanese badminton
Translation: Good fortune
Products used: Pilot New Brush Pen – Medium

This card features a traditional Japanese game called Hanetsuki. Similar to badminton, this game is played with two paddles and a brightly colored shuttlecock, but unlike badminton, it is played without a net.

The single kanji on this card means “good fortune” to wish the recipient good fortune for the upcoming year.


Japanese symbol: O-mikuji, paper fortunes
Hiragana: あけましておめでとうございます
Translation: Happiness to you at the dawn (of a New Year)
Products used: Pilot New Brush Pen – Fine

On New Year’s Day, Japanese people go to a Shinto shrine to pray for the New Year and also pick up a fortune written on slips of paper. The strips of paper (they’re not chopsticks!) in our card represent these fortunes that are picked from boxes (or nowadays, even vending machines) at the shrine.

For this card, we used the Pilot New Brush Pen in Fine. The Fine pen was a better choice for the more delicate and curved strokes of hiragana (Japanese script). It translates to “Happiness to you at the dawn (of a New Year).”

What do you think? Did you send any New Year’s cards this year?