Chinese Red Envelope Lantern

For kids, Chinese New Year is the holiday to eat, socialize, and get incredibly rich, fast.

The Chinese Red Envelope, also call lay-see in Cantonese, is given to children during the holiday as a bestowing of fortune, wealth, and good luck for the new year.

I have very fond memories of getting these festive little packets from my aunties and uncles years back when my grandfather would host incredible Chinese New Years’ celebrations in LA’s Chinatown each year.  On the car ride back home after dinner, my sister and I would count up and compare totals to make sure there wasn’t any unfair favoritism going on. After mustering up all that self-control to not open those red envelopes during mealtime, we were finally free to be our greedy selves!

Chinese culture has it that with adulthood you can kiss those red envelopes goodbye.  The only exception to this is if you are getting married, where red envelopes are given to the bride and groom during Chinese tea ceremonies.

If you’re planning to celebrate Chinese New Year with the kiddos this year, this is a neat project to take on.  Although I’ve added several instructional pictures to this post, the process isn’t actually that difficult.  I made my lantern in less than an hour.

The trickiest part about this lantern project is finding some envelopes you like, that have designs that are both vertical and horizontal.  I found these adorable Hello Kitty envelopes in San Francisco’s Chinatown a few weeks ago while my husband was holding our place in line at Golden Gate Bakery, famous for their Egg Custard Tarts.  You can buy red envelopes at most Asian grocery stores and even online on Ebay or Etsy.

The resulting Hello Kitty lantern is a more modern version of a lantern I’ve admired at my mother-in-law’s house for a while.  Her lantern is embellished with some rolled envelopes for a slightly different look, which is perfect if your horizontally designed envelopes are the same standard size as your vertical envelopes.  You can see that the top part of my lantern uses longer/larger horizontally oriented envelopes, while the bottom part uses the standard, vertically oriented ones.

With Chinese New Year lasting for two weeks until February 14th, I hope you’ll find some time to make one of these magical, cheerful lanterns.  If you’re feeling particularly generous you can stuff money inside each envelope of this lantern instead of those index cards…the little ones will love you for it and it’ll be a true test in self-control!

Chinese Red Envelope Paper Lantern

What You’ll Need:

3 x 5 index cards

12 large size red envelopes (with a horizontal design) or {18 standard size red envelopes (with horizontal design).  You’ll roll the extra 6 and tape them to the top part of your lantern like my mother-in-law did.}

12 standard size red envelopes (with a vertical design)


transparent tape

sturdy string or baker’s twine, a 1-yard piece, 2-yard piece, and a 12-inch piece

5″ tassel (you can get this at Joann’s or a home decoration store)


1.)  Prepare Envelopes  

Stuff an index card (or cash!) into each of the envelopes to create a sturdier thickness of paper.  You may need to cut the card or tape 2 together to accommodate the size of the envelope.  Seal envelopes with tape if necessary, or tuck into pre-cut flap.

2.)  Top Lantern Layer

Tape 6 horizontally oriented (for me these are the larger envelopes) together, side-by-side.

Using another 6 horizontally oriented envelopes of the same size, place each envelope on top of the bottom set of envelopes.  Tape the right side of each of the second layer of envelopes onto the bottom first layer, leaving the left side untaped.  

With the final envelopes on the right, tape the top envelope down to underlying envelope by wrapping the tape around the right edge so that the 2 envelopes become joined.

Prop up the connected envelopes right-side up to create a hexagon shape with the 6 attached envelopes pointing towards the center.  This will help show you where to place pieces of tape next.

Start taping 2 free edges closest to one another to create a center point to the hexagon. Use a long piece of tape that covers the entire length of the envelopes’ right edge.

You can tape the envelopes together on whichever side you prefer, as long at they are sealed together well.

Finish the hexagon with a final piece of tape.

The finished hexagon will be the top part of the lantern.  Set aside.

3.)  Bottom Lantern Layer (Repeat process for “Top Lantern Layer”)

4.)  String Together Top & Bottom Lantern Pieces

String Top Lantern Piece

Use a 2 yard piece of string here.  Lace each string end in 1 of 2 opposite spaces in hexagon (from bottom) and tie knot at top center of lantern.

Place each string end into two other opposite spaces in hexagon, then flip the lantern piece over and tie another knot.

Place string ends in 2 remaining opposite spaces on hexagon and flip the lantern piece over.  Tie a final knot snug to the center point.

Set this top lantern piece aside.  The strings at the top of this top lantern piece will help to hang the lantern later…do not cut these!

String Bottom Lantern Piece (Repeat “String Top Lantern Piece”)

Use a 1-yard piece of string/baker’s twine here.  Lace each string end in 1 of 2 opposite spaces in hexagon (from bottom) and tie knot at top center of lantern.Place each string end into two other opposite spaces in hexagon, then flip the lantern piece over and tie another knot.

Place string ends in 2 remaining opposite spaces on hexagon and flip the lantern piece over.  Tie a final knot snug to the center point (just about to be tied in this picture).

Place the large/top lantern piece on top of bottom piece, aligning their centers.  Pull the loose string ends of the bottom piece up through 2 opposite spaces of the large/top lantern piece. Adjust the slack on the string so that there is a 1″ allowance between the top and bottom lantern pieces (just eye-ball this).  Tie a final knot snug to the center point of the top piece to create one large lantern where top and bottom pieces are connected with string. After tying the knot, snip off excess string with scissors.

5.)  Attach Tassel

Loop tassle onto 12-inch piece of string and shift it to center of the string piece.  Choose two opposite hexagon spaces on lower part of lantern to place each of string ends in and pull them up to the top of the lower lantern piece (to the middle of the whole lantern).

Tie a knot above the bottom lantern piece, snug to the center of the hexagon, and snip off excess string.

Congratulations!  You’re done!!  Happy Chinese New Year!!!