Hongbao in myriad hues

Designs this year come in multiple colours and even darker hues such as navy blue. As a sign of the times, some companies have included features such as a bigger envelope that can be reused to hold a mask

Left: National Heritage Board (HDB Living Space Gallery). Right: Caltex
Left: National Heritage Board (HDB Living Space Gallery). Right: Caltex
Left: Great Eastern. Right: Capital Group
Left: Great Eastern. Right: Capital Group
Left: Paul. Right: Luxasia
Left: Paul. Right: Luxasia
Left: Synergy Financial Advisers. Right: Singapore Management University
Left: Synergy Financial Advisers. Right: Singapore Management University
Left: PUB. Right: StarHub
Left: PUB. Right: StarHub
Left: Synergy Financial Advisers. Right: Manulife
Left: Synergy Financial Advisers. Right: Manulife
Left: OCBC Bank. Right: Schroders
Left: OCBC Bank. Right: Schroders
Left: Amundi. Right: DBS Bank
Left: Amundi. Right: DBS Bank
Left: Julius Baer. Right: ComfortDelGro
Left: Julius Baer. Right: ComfortDelGro
Top: Patch! Festival. Bottom: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
Top: Patch! Festival. Bottom: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre

It's the Year of the Ox but there are few oxen in sight.

This year's hongbao designs feature generic and floral motifs, as well as multi-colours. There is even one with a word search puzzle and designers have also included pandemic-friendly features.

Instead of firecracker red, many organisations have opted for a mix of candy pop hues, giving their hongbao versatility to be used for other occasions as well.

OCBC Bank, for example, dialled it up a notch with hongbao designs in fluorescent pink and mustard yellow, apart from the traditional red colour.

"We hope the bright colours will uplift all who give and receive our red packets, amid the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic," says the bank's head of group brand and communications Koh Ching Ching.

Meanwhile, Paul bakery went for a creamy beige speckled with coffee and croissants, playing on how croissants are shaped like gold ingots as well as the horns of the ox.

Companies such as Synergy Financial Advisers and RE&S Enterprises took the bold step of colouring their hongbao in dark hues such as navy blue and purple.

RE&S Enterprises, a restaurateur operating Japanese food chains including Ichiban Boshi, even gave the Japanese Fortune Cat a holographic rendition for a fresh look.

Taking creativity to another level, fragrance and cosmetics distributor Luxasia's hongbao features a word search puzzle with the word "ox" hidden within.

Asset management company Schroders has included hidden illusions on the back of the hongbao. Move the hongbao slowly away from the tip of one's nose to see an image of an ox.

Not all companies strayed from tradition. Insurance agency Great Eastern and asset manager Amundi have stuck to the classic - plastering huge, majestic-looking oxen on their hongbao.

Unsatisfied with just one ox, the National Heritage Board has come up with a series featuring 32 different oxen flanking museums and galleries here such as the National Museum of Singapore.

As a sign of the times, some companies have incorporated pandemic-focused features into their red packets.

Amundi's hongbao comes in a large envelope size which can be reused as a face mask holder. Schroders has also teamed up with Singapore-based social enterprise Mustard Tree to produce leather bands holding the red packets which can double as mask extenders.

Adding a twist to the hongbao experience, many organisations have digitised their hongbao with QR codes that lead to online activities.

The Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre has a "talking hongbao", powered by augmented reality technology, which makes an illustrated ox come to life and grunt greetings in Mandarin and other major dialects such as Hokkien and Teochew.

Meanwhile, the QR code on the flip side of Amundi's hongbao launches an Instagram filter which gives its user ox horns and ears against a floral backdrop, while gold ingots and coins appear each time the user blinks.


Left: You Tiao Man. Right: RE&S Enterprises

  • Rise of e-hongbao

    E-hongbao look set to gain traction this year due to the pandemic.

    With visitation restrictions, where only up to eight house guests a day are allowed, coupled with the advice from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to opt for e-hongbao, giving out virtual red packets might finally take off.

    DBS Bank, the first to offer an e-hongbao service in Singapore in 2015, is offering two ways to send these virtual blessings - through a direct transfer of funds via DBS eGift (renamed from eAngBao) or scanning a QR code on a slip of paper known as DBS QR Gift, for those who do not want to lose the physical touch of hongbao.

    To encourage more to adopt e-angbao, DBS is also giving out cash prizes of up to $888 when users gift or redeem a QR Gift of at least $2.

    Banks such as Citibank and Standard Chartered also allow their users to gift e-hongbao via PayNow.

    However, many still prefer paper and the physical act of giving. Among them is graphic designer and avid hongbao collector Isaac Lim, 55, who feels that e-hongbao are "too transactional".

    Another avid hongbao collector, operations manager Sandra Siaw, 47, notes that while the young may be receptive to the idea of e-hongbao, the trend may not have caught on with the elderly, who tend to be less tech-savvy.

    "With e-hongbao, the warmth and goodwill behind gifting and receiving physical hongbao may be lost," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2021, with the headline 'Hongbao in myriad hues'. Subscribe