Vietnamese Engagement Ceremony
Vietnamese engagement ceremony is an important ceremony before the wedding which involve both fiancé’s and fiancée’s families. In the past, engagement ceremony was considered very important even than the wedding ceremony because it was an official day to announce the wedding, the relationship between two families. Nowadays, it is less important and varied for each region. In the big city the engagement ceremony could be celebrated 1 day before (and 1 month in the countryside) the wedding ceremony.
Before the engagement day, each family chooses a representative. This person is a member of the family which has a happy life and a high ranking position in the family. Both of representatives do representation, exchange gifts and controlling the flow of the ceremony. Besides choosing the representatives, both families sit together to negotiate the dowry and the good time for the ceremony. The time is chosen very carefully based on the propitious time and day of lunar calendar.
The gifts are prepared by the fiancé family several days before the engagement ceremony. Traditionally the gifts was placed a number of trays. The number must be an odd number 5, 7 or 9… trays depends on the condition of the fiancé family. The gifts are covered by the red color paper or cloth. In Vietnamese beliefs, the odd number and the red color will bring luck to the young couple. The gifts include betel leaves, areca nut fruits (trâ`u, cau), wine, tea, husband-wife cake (ba´nh phu thê) and sticky rice... one of the most important gift is the whole roasted pig which placed in a large tray. Both families also choose 5, 7 or 9 people who bring and receive the gifts. These people must be young and not marriage. Boys represent for fiancé bearing the gifts and girls represent for fiancée receiving the gifts.
On the engagement day, the fiancé family brings the gifts to the fiancée family with the warmly welcome. After receiving the gifts, the young couple prays in front of the fiancée’s family altar to ask for approval of fiancée ancestors. When this ritual finishes, the fiancé give the fiancée the engaged ring.
Following the engaged ring giving, the both representatives introduced the member of both families in an order. Then both family enjoy the party which prepared by the fiancée family. It is also expected that some of gifts are returned to the fiancé family for luck before the fiancé family leaves.
The days after the engagement ceremony to the wedding ceremony, the parents of fiancée family bring the wedding cards with gifts to their friends, family members… and neighbors to invite them to the wedding party of their young couple
Contemporary Vietnamese Traditional Weddings
The pace of change
Modern traditional weddings in Vietnam differ significantly to those in the past. The most obvious change is the cost – the social pressure of ‘face’ leads some families to spend up to the equivalent of ten year’s salary. Another obvious difference is the average age of the couple.
In the past, a groom of 20 with an 18-year-old bride would be considered an ideal couple. Today, education, a degree of female emancipation, and the need to pursue a career have raised the figures by five or even ten years for middle-class city dwellers. Working class couples tend to marry earlier.
The tradition of matchmaking has largely faded away, but most parents have firm views – were they to decide that the prospective spouse was unsuitable, most young people would accept the verdict and break off the relationship.
Some young people seek the services of an astrologer in advance to determine whether their future liaison will be successful. If the result were negative, most would withdraw.
Women a couple of years over 30 are considered to be past their sell-by date - for men, it’s a about 35. The possibility of being left on the shelf is frightening, especially for women. As the deadline draws nearer, individuals’ and families’ criteria become looser – better an unsuitable partner than no partner!
Arranging the marriage
The first stage of marriage is usually when the young man's parents consult a fortune-teller to see whether the couple is destined to live together as husband and wife. If so, he will formally request the young woman's hand.
The actual request is made by a party comprising the young man's parents, or aunt and uncle if he is an orphan, and a go-between who go to meet the young woman's parents. The party takes gifts such as betel leaves and areca nuts, and asks what the family requires for their daughter’s hand. The young woman's parents will usually ask for a sum of money to cover the costs of the marriage preparations.
The next stage in the process is the engagement, which, once the consent has been given, usually follows several months after. However, in some circumstances such as university or one partner working abroad, it can be much longer.
Vietnamese people believe that some days are particularly auspicious, so choosing appropriate days for the engagement and the wedding is another task for the fortune-teller.
If the fiancée or her family breaks off the engagement for any reason, all of the gifts must be returned to the young man's family. If the fiancé backs out before the big day, her family keeps them.
The engagement is a solemn ceremony. On the day, the young man will travel with his family to the young woman's house bearing gifts of betel nuts, cake, wine, cigarettes and so on. Young women wear red ao dais and a banquet is held after formal rituals are performed before the ancestral altar. The engagement ceremony is a chance for the young woman's family to meet their future son-in-law.
The wedding day
The final stage is the wedding day. Traditionally, the couple must stay apart on the day before to prevent bad luck. On the night before, the bride's mother will tend her daughter’s hair with several combs. Every comb means something, but the most important is the third comb - at that time she will ask for luck and happiness her new home.
On the big day, the bride’s family and invited guests assemble at her house to await the arrival of the bridegroom. Shortly before the groom’s party is due, the bride slips away to don her wedding dress.
Gifts from the groom's family
The groom’s parents and immediate relatives are preceded by an odd number of young men smartly dressed in shirt and tie, and dark trousers. They each carry a tray covered in a red cloth, or alternatively a large red and gold canister, containing gifts of betel leaves, areca nuts, wine, fruit, cakes, tea and so on.
In the past, they would have walked, but today most wedding parties opt for cars and change to cyclos for the last part of the journey.
Red is the dominant colour in a traditional Vietnamese wedding – it’s considered a lucky colour and will lead to a rosy future.
Upon arrival the young men dismount and are met by the same number of young women dressed in red ao dais. The men hand the gifts to the women who take them inside.
Each young woman hands her male counterpart a small amount of money to designate that they are ‘working’ – there is a superstition that being an unpaid helper at a wedding will mean that you won’t marry.
Accepting the gifts
The leading couple of the groom’s party enters the bride’s house carrying a tray of small cups of wine and invite the brides parents to take a sip. By accepting the toast, the bride’s parents symbolically agree to admit the groom’s party. A few years ago, this would be accompanied by firecrackers, but many accidents and a subsequent ban put an end to the tradition.
The groom's family introduce themselves and ask permission for their son to marry his bride. A Master of Ceremonies (usually a respected person chosen from the bride's relatives) instructs the bride’s parents to present their daughter. The bride then enters. Traditionally, this will be a red au dai. The groom will wear a dark suit or, more traditionally, a black ao dai.
The wedding ceremony begins in front of the altar. The bride and the groom kneel down and pray, asking their ancestors' permission to be married and their blessing on their family-to-be. The couple then turn around and bow to the bride's parents to thank them for raising and protecting her since birth.
They then bow their heads towards each other to show their gratitude and respect to their soon-to-be husband or wife. The Master of Ceremonies then advises the wedding couple on starting a new family and the two sets of parents take turns to share their experiences and give blessings.
The groom and the bride then exchange wedding rings, and the parents give the newly wedded couple gold bracelets, earrings and other valuable gifts.
The wedding banquet
After the marriage, both wedding parties leave to join guests that were not invited to the marriage ceremony at a large banquet. This is usually a large gathering, often in the hundreds and sometimes more. The groom, bride, and their family are once again introduced to the guests and everyone drinks a toast. Dinner or lunch is served at the table.
During the reception, the groom, bride, and their parents visit each table to thank their guests. In return, the guests give envelopes containing wedding cards, money gifts and a blessing to the newly wedded couple.
After the banquet, the groom’s party and the bride leave for the groom’s house, where she will live. Later, the bride’s party follows to inspect the accommodation - particularly the marital
Vietnamese and Western wedding ceremonies
Most Vietnamese wedding takes place in the autumn and winter, when the weather is cooler and farmers have less fieldwork. Europeans, meanwhile, tend to marry in the summer. What most Westerners fail to realize is that ancient superstitions influence their wedding dates. According to an old rhyme, couples marrying in June (the most popular month for Western weddings) may look forward to"one long honeymoon". This belief goes back 2000 years, since the sixth month was named after Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. May, meanwhile, was deemed disastrous for marriage, as the Romans presented offerings to the dead at this time. Many Vietnamese families turn to astrologers to help determine the bride and groom's compatibility and to choose an auspicious wedding day. For a Vietnamese woman, getting married at the age of 22, 23, 26, or 28 is considered unlucky.
In both Vietnam and the West, getting married traditionally involved two steps: the engagement and the wedding. According to tradition, a Western groom was required to ask the bride's father for his daughter's hand in marriage. An engagement ring was then presented to the girl as a symbol of the groom's commitment and as a sign to other potential suitors that her affections were "engaged". While modern romantics might not like the idea, this tradition is rooted in the days when marriages were arranged and a groom's family paid a dowry or "bride-price" for the girl's hand.
In Vietnam, the betrothal ceremony, or an hoi, also involves gift-giving. The groom and his family visit the bride's family bearing round red lacquered boxes full of tea, cakes, fruit, wine and areca leaves and betel nuts. As red is considered a lucky color, the boxes draped in red silk and carried by unmarried girls or boys in red clothes.
While these gifts are symbolic, it was also customary for the boy's family with valuables like livestock or jewelry. The gifts contained in the lacquered boxes are set on the girl's family's ancestral altar, after which the edible gifts are divided into two portions. The smaller portion is returned to the boy's family to show that they have been too generous and that the bride's family is not greedy.
In the past, the an hoi could take place as long as two years before the wedding. Today, it is often staged the day before the main event, or le cuoi. On this day, at a bridegroom's family forms a procession to the bride's home to collect the bride. They are welcomed by bride's family members, who are careful not to step beyond their gate so as to not appear overager to marry off their daughter. A banquet typically follows, after which the bride and groom travel to the boy's family home, where the newlyweds will live.
Todays, both religious and civil marriages in the West are celebrated with a ceremony in which the couple declares their willingness to remain together "for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us apart". Long ago, these sentiments were expressed during the traditional betrothal ceremony. It was only in the 12th century that Europeans began to marry in church.
At both Vietnamese and Western weddings, food is imbued with symbolic meaning. In northern Vietnam, weddings often feature phu the or su se cakes, which made of flour with a green bean, sugar and lotus sedd filling.Always sold in pairs, these soft square cakes are wrapped in green dong leaves that represent eternal lve and tied with a red ribbon, a symbol of the destiny that connects a man and a woman. Western brides and grooms typically cut the first slice out of wedding cake together, the feed each other some bites of cake to express their commitment to provide for each other. AN old superstition claims that if an unmarried woman places a piece of wedding cake beneath her pillow she will dream of her future husband.
Old beliefs also govern wedding clothes. In the West, the bride is advised to wear, "Something old, something new, something borrowed something blue and a silver sixpence in your shoe." Originating in Victorian England, this rhyme expresses much older beliefs.The old item, typically antique lace or jewelry, symbolizes continuity, while the new item signifies future hopes. The borrowed item should come from a happily married friend. Blue is the color of purity, and the coin represents prosperity.
Western tradition deems it unlucky for the bride to make her own wedding dress, and for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony. Nor should the bride wear her entire outfit before the wedding day. This is clearly not the case in Vietnam, where couples typically don their wedding finery and pose for photographs long before the big day. While most Western brides and growing numbers in Vietnam wear white gowns, this tradition dates back to just the 16th century. Before that, girls wore colorful frocks, although according to an old rhyme some colors were to be avoided, such as, "married in green, ashemed to be seen," or, "married in red, you will wish yourself dead".
In the past, most people in Vietnam could not afford special wedding clothes. Today, puffy Western-style gowns are increasingly popular although these dresses aren't necessarily white.
In both Vietnam and the West, guests present the newlyweds with gifts to wish them luck. Vietnamese people tend to give cards with cash, while Westerners typically give household goods. Guests perform certain rituals to grant the newlyweds good luck. Westerners throw rice, flower petals or confetti to ensure fertility, and tie tin cans to the couple's car to scare away evil spirits jealous of their happiness. It is considered lucky for a Western groom to carry his bride over the threshold when they enter their new home. In Vietnam, a healthy baby boy is often placed on the newlywed's bed to improve their chances of having a son.
While modern couples may scoff at many of these superstitions, others are happy to hedge their bets. After all, as an old saying goes: "Marriages are made in heaven. But again, so are thunder, lightning, tornadoes and hail...".
Match Makers in Vietnam in the Past
If the newlyweds were happy, the matchmaker became their benefactor and was thanked with a bowl of steamed sticky rice, a boiled chicken, and a silk dress following the wedding. When the couple celebrated the one-month anniversary of their first child, the matchmaker was invited to the party.
Following an introduction by the matchmaker, the grooms family would visit the bride's family to ask after their daughter's name and age. This ceremony was an important tirst step, as the girl's age determined in her suitability as a bride. The groom's family would study the horoscopes of the prospective couple, only agreeing to a wedding if the pair's horoscopes were complementary. As well as having suitable horoscopes, the couple should come from the same social class.
Asking for wedding presents was a feudal custom that placed a lot of strain on both families. Some couples had to break up because the girl's family demanded gifts beyond the grooms family's means. The brides family might request dresses, bottles of wine, cakes, betel nuts, rice, pigs, chickens, jewelry, and money. Sometimes, the groom's family would go deep into debt, forcing the young couple to spend years paying back the costs incurred by their wedding. Resentment between the bride and groom and their respective families was inevitable.
A traditional wedding ceremony involved a great many gifts. Phu the cakes were mandatory. Made of rice flour, sugar, coconut and green beans, these cakes consist of a round filling between two square layers - said to represent the earth and the sky. The cakes are associated with loyalty, flexibility and honesty.
To raise pigs you must collect ivater ferns. To get married you must be pay "way ahead" to the village.
"Way ahead" was a sum of money that the grooms family offered to the girl's home village. If the boy and the girl were natives of the same village, the groom's family still had to pay "way ahead", although the sum was smaller. Only after receiving the "way ahead" would the village officials issue a marriage certificate. The collected money was to be used for public works, like sinking a well or building a road.
An hour or two before it was time to fetch the bride, the groom's uncle or aunt would go to the brides house to discuss the correct time to pick up the bride. This custom allowed the families to solve last-minute obstacles of poor weather or heavy traffic.
At the bride's home, the bride and groom worshiped at the ancestral altar, praying that the ancestors would support their future and ensure them a happy life. After that, the bride and groom offered a tray of betel nuts and cigarettes to thek guests, starting with the eldest and most respected guests. Finally, the bride and groom kowtowed to the brides parents. The brides parents reciprocated with a small gift, normally earrings or some money.
The mother-of-the-bride was not permitted to send her daughter off to the grooms house. It was considered the fathers right to arrange the marriage. Often, the bride would cry as she worried about her future among strangers, while her mother would cry at the thought of losing her child. According to custom, the mother was forbidden from watching her daughters departure.
Upon arrival at the grooms house, other customs were observed. In the central provinces of Nghe An-Ha Tinh, the mother-in-law would welcome the bride by placing a water scoop and a large brass pot full of water beside the front gate. Inside the pot she would throw a few coins. The water symbolized her blessing for the bride, while the coins showed that the new daughter-in-law had access to private capital.
After honoring the groom's ancestors, the mother-in-law led the bride into the wedding room. Here, a respected older man or woman with both a son and a daughter had spread a new flowered sedge mat on the bed. This tradition was designed to ensure that the couple would have a son and a daughter and a happy future.
In ether parts of Vietnam, the mother-in-law was not allowed to meet the bride, but instead took a pot of lime and went to a neighbors house. This custom showed that, while she was passing authority to her daughter-in-law, she retained the lime pot, symbolic of a woman's role in managing the housework.
In the past, most newlyweds were teenagers. It was common for girls of 13 and boys of 16 to marry. Bridesmaids would often accompany the bride to the groom's house and spend a few days teaching the bride how to become a wife and daughter-in-law. The bridesmaids typically departed after two or four days, when the newlyweds performed a custom known as lot mat, in which they returned to the bride's house to visit her parents and bring them some gifts. This tradition expressed the children's filial piety towards their parents.
Today, young people in Vietnam are free to choose their own partners. To outsiders, weddings may appear very Westernized, as most brides don white gowns, while the grooms family hosts a large reception, often in a restaurant or hotel. Behind the scenes, however, many of the old traditions persist. From the offering of betel nuts to the ceremonial laying down of the newlyweds' sedge mat, wedding rituals have retained their symbolic value
Pregnancy and Birth Customs
Recording Name on Family Annals Custom
According to the old custom, after checking the family annals, avoiding the profanation of taboo names (name of a child is same as the name of ancestors); the newborn child is officially given a name. In case of the name of the child is similar the name of ancestors, it has to be changed.
The ceremony of announcement name of a child to ancestor is very simple. It is needed only incense, betel and a glass of wine. Normally this ceremony is organized annual in ancestor death anniversary. All children which are born in each year are invited to announce their name at once. The order of each name in family annals is sorted by year. There are number of forms which are used to record the name but all of them contain the following information: name, parent, generations, branch of family, first-born child or not, date of birth and the date of recording this information.
In Vietnamese viewpoint, the daughter is the child of her husband family so her name is not recorded in family annals. But after The August Revolution, some families abolished that injustice, the name daughter is recorded on family annals
First-Born Baby Custom
Normally in Vietnam especially in the countryside regions, three generations live under the same roof. Based on Confucianism telnet, when a girl gets marriage she has to follow her husband and live in her husband family. It has some difficulties for the wife when she is pregnant and has baby at the first time. The first-born baby custom means the wife come back to her family to have the first-born baby, and from the second child she stays at her husband’s family.
This custom is popular in Binh Tri Thien and some other regions in the north of Vietnam. In Nghe An, Ha Tinh unless the husband lives in his wife’s family in general the wife must not go to her family to have a baby. Why Vietnamese has first-born baby custom? Because in the past the married age is young, (woman from thirteen and man from sixteen can get married), and when a young wife has a baby at the first time, she does not have any experiences during pregnancy. Furthermore, she still hesitates to depend on her mother-in-law, her sister-in-law for help and it would be easier to ask for help from her mother and her sister. Next time having a baby she has experiences, she can deal with difficulties by herself so she can stay at her husband’s family. Some days before confinement, the parent-in-law or the husband goes to the wife’s family to talk with the wife’s parent to take the wife come back her family. After confinement, the baby is strong enough. The husband prepares some presents to pick her wife up and take her to his home. The grandparent-in-law of the baby is very careful to mark a smut on baby’s forehead to drive ghost away on the way coming home.
Contrary to above custom, in Ha Tinh only the daughter-in-laws can have baby at the family. If the wife is staying at her house and cannot come back her husband family, her parent has to pitch a tent temporarily for her to have a baby or she has to go to buffalo’ cage outside the house.
In case the wife is motherless, she stays at her husband family to have a baby as normal
Vietnamese Adopted Child
In Vietnam, there are three main kinds of adopted child: formal adopted child, symbolic adopted child and pretended adopted child Formal adopted child
There are two sub kinds of adopted child in this type. The first one is the self-made adopted child. When a family don’t have son, they adopt a child from his bother or sister children. The age of the self-made adopted child is not important. He can be very young and fed by the foster family. He can be an adult or even he has his own family. The adopted child is responsible for caring his adoptive parent when they get old and worshiping them when they die. He has to be in mourning for his adoptive parent for 3 years as normal child of the family. Therefore after his adoptive passes away, he inherits the adoptive parent’s property. The property, which is inherited by the adopted child, can be much more than the daughter of adoptive parents because in Vietnamese belief, the daughter is the child of her husband’s parent after her get marriage. The self-made adopted child is accepted to be blood-relationship by relations. In case the adoptive parent has son after adopting, the self-made adopted child become a normal former adopted child. However, he still has right to inherit property of his adoptive parent like other their other Childs.
The second type of the formal adopted child is “H? phong t?” adopted child. There are some cases for to become a “H? phong t?” adopted child. The first case, if the adoptive family does not have any children. They adopt a child when the child was born. His or her mother gets some money as compensation. She has no right to claim or feed her child. In the second case, the illegitimate child was adopted. This child is not accepted to be blood-relationship by relations like self-made adopted child. In this case, he only has to be in mourning for his adoptive parent for 1 year. In the customs of some regions, the son-in-law can be adopted when his parent-in-law don’t have a son. He does not inherit from adoptive parent but his children. In this case, he only has to be in mourning for his adoptive parent for 1 year, the bother or sister of his wife nine months and he don’t wear for anyone else of his wife’s family Symbolic adopted child
This kind of adopted child is only symbolic as its name. When a family has a child which is incompatible with his parent according to horoscope, he is sold to become an adopted child of another family. After having a baby, the family invited the foster family into his house to see the face and give a name to the baby. After the baby become a symbolic of adopted child. When this baby grows up, the family takes this child to the foster family on 5th of Tet holiday each year. The hierarchy of the symbolic adopted child in foster family bases on his age. One important point is the decedents of the symbolic adopted child and the descendants of the child of the foster family must not marriage in three generations Pretended adopted child
When a family has difficulties in fostering his child, or they are afraid of ghost pesters his child. They bring his child to the street and then other person will adopt this child as an adopted child. Of course, the agreement between the family and foster family was made before. And some hours later, the family ransoms his child back. In this case, the adoptive which is selected by the family has to be prolific.
Nowadays, an adoptive child has interests and duties like an offspring. These interests and duties are admitted by government based on the agreements between the adoptive parent and the parent of the adoptive child or the patron of the adoptive child in case the child do not have parent
Why a Newborn Baby is not Given a Name
There are many reasons why Vietnamese do not name their newborn babies when they were born. The reasons are belief, olden government policy in the old society and family customs.
Normally, a Vietnamese has many names from birth to death. When a baby is born, it is called as “th?ng Cu”, “th?ng Cò”, “con Him”, “th?ng M?c”, ”con Cún”, “thang Ch?t em”, “con Ch?t ?”… These are general names to call a newborn baby. “th?ng” is for male and “con” is for female. In Vietnamese belief, the name of the baby is more ordinary, the baby is easier to nourish. After getting married, he or she is called as “Anh Ð?” for male or “Chi Xã” for female. When he or she has children, we can call him or her the name of her first-born child, When his or her first-born child has first-born, he or she is called by his or her the name of the first-born grandchild. After passing away, he or she has a taboo name for worshiping. If the person has social standing, he is called by his family name like “C? d?”, “C? Tam Nguyên Yên Ð?”,”Ông Tr?ng Trình”,…It is also a way addressing people of Chinese.
In many names like mentioning above, only the taboo name is the main name. This name is recorded in family annals and accepted by government. In the past, each village had a communal council which managed the registering of vital statistics but not strictly. The government only cared about the people which age is from eight-teen because from this age, a person had to pay head-money, to be conscripted or to be recruited coolies by force. The registering the name late is better for this person because he does not have to pay head-money and do other duties maybe in several years in life.
According to some family customs, the name of the child has to be avoided taboo name of his ancestors and follow the recording name on family annals custom. So the baby has a temporary name first, after checking the name of his ancestors, he is given his own taboo name
Supersitions After Birth of Newborn Baby
In Vietnamese customs, there are a lot of superstitions related to the newborn baby after birth. These are some most common of them: the praise should not be given to the newborn baby; the pillow of the baby should have seven chunks of mulberry with a needle; and there is a one month celebration for the newborn baby on his 30th day.
According to the Vietnamese customs, you should never give the newborn baby a good praise because it could invite the attention of demon and ghosts. The baby’s health will not be good and he/she will cry much. If you want to say the baby is cute or good, you have to say it with the idiom “tr?m vía” (steal soul) before you give the baby good appreciation. Mother should not say her baby is cute or He/She is very good at things. If you ask about her newborn baby, she will say it in the opposite ways with the idiom “tr?m vía”.
Normally almost newborn baby cry much at night so Vietnamese believe that he/she scared about the new place. In order to avoid this situation, the mother uses seven chunks of mulberry and a needle to make an amulet and put it inside the pillow. After that the baby may not cry and could be very good. In Vietnamese belief, the amulet is to dismiss ghosts and make the baby sleep well.
Based on the Buddhist family, in the morning of the baby’s 30th day, sacrifices are offered to the gods so that the gods will care for the baby in his following life. Furthermore, in the morning of the baby’s 30th day, it is also the time to inform officially to all ancestors that the new member of the family so they will protect the newborn baby. On that day, several relatives and closed friends of parents are invited to have a small party. The purpose of the party is the chance for relatives and friends have a look at the newborn, pray for him/her a good life and give the newborn baby gifts.
There are some debates on those superstitions above but they still have been passing from generation to generation. Believe it or not, those customs still reflect the unique custom of Vietnamese daily life
Vietnamese celebration for longevity custom
Each passing year in a person’s life brings esteem and respect to their family and neighborhood. Formerly, at the age of 40 one was honored for being an old man or woman.
During the Tran Dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries, the 40 year old emperor gave up his throne to his son to become a Buddhist monk
According to village customs, a man of 50 is to be honored as an old man. Old men stop working and are no longer village officials; however, they are still invited to festivals and to sears in the communal house. Here, they are seated honorably on red-bordered mats.
Showing respect and esteem for the elderly is a tradition that remains today. Nowadays, when grandparents or parents reach the ages of 70, 80 or 90, their children and grandchild organize ceremonies for longevity which are generally held on birthdays or during the spring days during Tet.
Such celebrations are occasions to show devotion and respect to grandparents and parents. Celebrations for longevity, either large or small, manifest the family’s joy in having a relative who has been able to lead a long life.
Today, in almost every village or urban district, there is an association of longevity for the elderly. When reaching the ages of 70 or 80, old women are offered red dresses and other gifts and are invited to be photographed
Vietnamese Funeral Customs
"The sense of the dead is that of the final", says a Vietnamese proverb, implying that funeral ceremonies must be solemnly organized.
Formerly, funerals went as follow’s the body was washed and dressed, a chopstick was laid between the teeth and then a pinch of rice and three coins were drooped in the mouth.
The body was laid on a grass mat spread on the ground, enveloped with white cloth and put into a coffin. Finally, the funeral ceremony was officially performed. The coffin is buried and covered, but after three days of mourning, the family visits the tomb again and opens the grave for worship. Finally, after 49 days, the family stops bringing rice for the dead to the altar. And then, after 100 days, the family celebrates "tot khoc", or the end of the tears.
After one year there is a ceremony for the first anniversary of the relative’s death and after two years in the end of mourning festival.
Nowadays, morning ceremonies follow new rituals which are simplified; they consist of covering and putting the dead body into the coffin, the funeral procession, the burial of the coffin into the grave, and the visits to the tomb. The death’s family members wear a white turban or a black mourning band
Open New House Celebration Customs
In the past, building a house was considered one of the three most important events in Vietnamese life. These were purchasing a buffalo, looking for a wife, and building a house. So building an own house is very important to Vietnamese. It even shows his position in social structure. Vietnamese who die without ever has his own house is considered poor and disadvantaged.
Open house celebration is a popular customs of Vietnamese. All of friends, relatives and neighbors are invited to a party to share with the house owner happiness. After the party all guests give gifts normally a little money to house owner and also best wishes for health, happiness and a prosperous life
Village’s guilds custom
The Vietnamese culture has evolved from the basis of a wet rice cultivating civilization. Because of this, the lifestyle of the Vietnamese population is closely related to native villages and lands.
In Vietnamese society, people gathered together to form villages in rural areas and guilds in urban areas. These villages and guilds have been forming since the dawn of the nation. The organization gradually developed, steadily becoming more stable and closer together. Each village and guild has its own conventions.
The purpose of the conventions is to promote good customs within populations and organizations. All are different, but of course are always in accordance with state law.
There are tens of thousands of such conventions safety kept in the History Museum in Hanoi and other museums throughout the country
Superstition in Vietnam
What is the best way to keep a child healthy? An old Vietnamese grandfather believes the charm of a certain necklace wards off evil spirits and he may give it to his grandson to protect the boy. An employee fails to show up for work on the third day of the lunar month because he believes that particular date brings him bad luck. A student tries to borrow money to buy lottery tickets because he dreamed of fire the night before.
These are some examples of superstition which may baffle the foreign visitor to this country. But, in Vietnam, it is part of tradition and customs passed down from one generation to the next. Ignorance, of course, plays some role in the traditional acceptance of superstition. Not having sufficient knowledge, faith or trust in scientific methods, a Vietnamese often relies on his prejudices, emotions and the word of his forefathers to guide his daily life.
Superstition, sometimes, plays more than a passing role in Vietnamese society. By the time a boy is old enough to marry, for example, he may not be able to wed the girl he loves because she was born in the wrong year. On the 12-year lunar calendar commonly used throughout Asia, many of the years are considered incompatible. Such years are thought to bring misfortune if they are improperly matched with other years. Thus a young man born in "the Year of the Tiger," cannot marry his beloved from "the Year of the Horse" unless he wants to risk a break in family ties with his parents and elder relatives. To the conservative relatives, the Tiger and Horse are incompatible and sure to bring bad luck to such a marriage. The hoot of an owl is regarded as a bad omen announcing death or illness. According to ancient tradition the bird must be chased away and those who heard his cry should be extremely cautious about their personal safety.
A large number of fortune-tellers, astrologers and palm-readers owe their living to Vietnamese superstition and often made a small fortune from their clients. Even the poor save money for occasional visits to well-known soothsayers. Superstition has been known to determine the conduct of the war in this ravaged country. A friendly or enemy commander may refuse to attack or may alter his strategy if the stars are not in his favor. One story has it that an American commander always consulted a Vietnamese astrologer before planning the deployment of his troops. When questioned by his incredulous superiors, he explained that, according to his theory, he could depend on the enemy to base his attacks on the positions of the stars. So, he consulted a stargazer himself for intelligence on the enemy's movements. Another story passed down through history is that of the famous Vietnamese generals Le Loi and Nguyen Trai. Several years ago, the pair was leading a war against Chinese invaders. Nguyen Trai decided to turn superstition to his advantage and used grease to write the phrases "Le Loi vi Quan; Nguyen Trai vi Than," (Le Loi for King; Nguyen Trai for Minister of State) on the large leaves of forest trees. Ants later consumed the grease absorbed in the leaf tissue and left the prophecy clearly engraved. People living nearby noticed the perforated leaves and interpreted them as a "divine message." Inspired by this, they wholeheartedly supported the war which eventually led to the defeat of the Chinese and the enthronement of Emperor Le Loi.
Another story is told of a Montagnard tribe that trapped a white elephant in 1961 and offered the rare animal to the late President Ngo Dinh Diem as a gift. Government news agencies, attempting to strengthen the already tottering regime of Diem, spread the word that a "powerful king" had been sent down from Heaven to rule the Vietnamese. The President himself flew to the city of Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands to accept the gift, a symbol of supreme and divine power. The elephant was given to Diem in a much publicized ceremony. Two years later, history proved no "powerful king" had come to the rescue when Diem was assassinated and his regime overthrown in a military coup. Whether by chance or not, superstition scores an occasional point in its favor. One story tells of an old Vietnamese Senator who, learning that the opening ceremony of the first Vietnamese Senate under the new Constitution would be October 10, 1967, voiced his disapproval. It was a bad day, he said, and someone in the Senate would surely suffer for the indiscretion. Four months later, during the Communist Tet offensive of 1968, Senator Tran Dien, a popular and well loved figure, was assassinated, by the Viet Cong in Hue, in Central Vietnam. The old Senator is convinced his prophecy of doom came true .
There are some social reformers in this country who believe that superstition is a problem, which should be eradicated in Vietnam is to become a truly progressive, modern nation. A young whipper-snapper, a graduate from a foreign western university, even proposed legislation to outlaw superstition in this country. How dull life would be if all our soothsayers, fortune tellers, palm-readers and astrologers were to be pensioned off and retired. We promptly took this abominable proposition to our favorite soothsayer who solemnly assured us that this is not in the stars
The presence of the dead, the behaviour of the living, and an influence on the future - the many generations of the Vietnamese family.
Ancestor worship was introduced into Vietnam by the Chinese during their long occupation of the country that began 200 years before the birth of Christ. Since then, it has been fully absorbed into the Vietnamese consciousness and, with Confucianism, underpins the country’s religion and social fabric.
Ancestor worship is not only the adhesive that binds the Vietnamese together, but also one of the most difficult concepts for people from Anglo-Saxon or European origins to understand. It has been said that the Vietnamese believe in the dead, while the Occidentals believe only in death How do Vietnamese people worship their ancestors?
The practice of ancestor worship is relatively straightforward. Nearly every house, office, and business in Vietnam has a small altar which is used to commune with ancestors. Incense sticks are burned frequently. Offerings are made – fruit, sweets, and gifts. The latter items are paper replicas of dollar notes (‘ghost money’), motorbikes, cars, houses and so on. After worship, the paper gifts are burnt so that the spirits of the gifts can ascend to heaven for the ancestors to use.
In the past, the income from a plot of land was used to maintain the altar and arrange the rituals, but this tradition has now faded away. However, the custom that the eldest son will arrange the ceremonial and inherit the family house upon the death of his parents is still generally observed.
Another traditional element is the placing of wooden tablets on the altar for each of the ancestors over recent generations. This is less rigorously observed today, and tablets are often replaced by photographs. Some pagodas house commemorative tablets for ancestors on behalf of regular worshippers When do Vietnamese people worship their ancestors?
Worshipping takes place regularly on particular days, such as festivals, new and full moon days, the death day of the ancestor, and so on. On important occasions, such as moving house, starting a new business or the birth of a child, and whenever a member of the family needs guidance or a favour, the ancestors are consulted.
A proliferation of small fires of burning paper in the streets of towns and cities means that it is a festival or moon day. One paper fire is likely to be an event affecting a single family Why do Vietnamese people worship their ancestors?
For the Vietnamese, ancestor worship is not related to ghosts, spiritualism or even the supernatural in the Western sense. It is not even a ‘belief’ in the sense that it is open to question by the ‘believers’. The Vietnamese accept as a fact that their ancestors continue to live in another realm, and that it is the duty of the living to meet their needs. In return, the ancestors give advice and bring good fortune.
Devotees of Buddhism believe in previous existences, and seek to correct previous bad deeds to reach enlightenment. Ancestor worship is fundamentally different. For the Vietnamese, death, and the ritual and practice of ancestor worship, constitutes the transfer of power from the tangible life to the intangible. Existence is a continuum stretching through birth, a life spent in tangible form on Earth, followed by death and a spirit existence in another realm for a further two or three generations Who are the heroic ancestors
By virtue of their worthy deeds, heroic ancestors, such as Tran Hung Dao and the Trung sisters, continue to exist and be worshipped in temples for many generations beyond the two or three of ordinary folk. Their rectitude is a model to guide the behaviour of the living What about ‘bad’ ancestors?
All ancestors are worthy of respect and reverence, regardless of their behaviour as living beings. However, the misdeeds of a wicked family ancestor will be visited upon his or her children and grandchildren in the form of bad luck. This is a powerful influence upon the behaviour of the living, influencing them to behave well and do good deeds in the present, thereby endowing their living and unborn children with good luck in the future How does ancestor worship affect daily life in Vietnam?
The effect of ancestor worship upon Vietnamese society is profound. There are three main concepts:
- regarding life as a small part of an infinitely greater whole embracing the entire race
- a belief that the past and present exist simultaneously
- a certitude that each individual’s behaviour in life has a direct impact upon the quality of the lives of his or her children and grandchildren
Taken together, these convictions extend the concept of the family far beyond the sense in which the term is used in the West. A Vietnamese person is never ‘alone’ – his or her ‘family’ is always present What is the future of ancestor worship in Vietnam?
Whether ancestor worship will continue to be strong as the influence of scientific rationalism and social change accelerates, is an open question. In the past, the majority of individual family members lived within close geographical proximity. The turmoil in the years before and after the defeat of the US forces led to an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people.
More recently, economic migration and travel to far countries to study or work have created a growing Diaspora. Only time will determine whether the strength of the beliefs that have sustained the Vietnamese family unit over many centuries and created a unique national community will withstand the pressures of globalisation and expanding modern technology
Vietnames Hair Cut
When considering the styling dilemmas once faced by Vietnamese men, a "bad hair day" takes on a whole new meaning. Dao Hung explains why hairdos once led to public ridicule, whippings, and even jail terms.
In the early years of the 20th century, Vietnamese men wore their hair long, secured in a knot at the nape. When going out, a man would wrap a scarf around his head to cover this chignon. This hairstyle was imported from China, probably during the long period when Vietnam was under Chinese occupation. Chinese records from the first century AD. note that Vietnamese men "wear short hair", citing this as a difference between the two peoples.
By the 17th century, however, long hair had become a symbol of Vietnamese identity, since, under the Manchu dynasty, Chinese men had started shaving the front half of the head and wearing the remaining hair in a pigtail. Thus, when Nguyen Hue launched his assault on the Manchu army that was occupying Thang Long (now Hanoi) in 1789, his declaration that he was "fighting for long hair" spoke of his determination to preserve Vietnamese culture.
When the French took control of Vietnam they found some striking differences between their preferred styles and those worn by Vietnamese men, who kept their hair long and blackened their teeth. Some noble men and officials also sported long fingernails. Inevitably, as early as the end of the 19th century, many Vietnamese men working for the French began to imitate French styles. Since public opinion remained generally critical of those who imitated Western ways, it is interesting to note that one of the first men to cut his hair was King Thanh Tai, who opposed French rule. Having come to the throne in 1889, Thanh Tai was deposed by the French in 1907. Short hair, claimed this king, was a convenience, which others should adopt. At the time, however, most men in intellectual circles ignored his styling advice.
Following a long involvement in the Duy Tan (Reformation) movement and a stay in Japan as part of the Dong Du (Travel to the East) education movement, the notable patriot Phan Chu Trinh cut his hair in 1906. He then encouraged other intellectuals to do the same, arguing that long hair for men was outmoded. A few other patriotic intellectuals like Tran Qui Cap and Huynh Thuc Khang agreed. Other progressive Confucian scholars remained tormented by doubt. Phan Khoi suffered sleepless nights after having cut his hair, since he'd done so without seeking the permission of his parents and grandparents. These qualms stemmed from the Confucian principle that "the body, hair and skin are given life by the parents; not to damage or wound them is the first principle of filial piety". Despite his doubts, Phan Khoi later wrote a poem for compatriots who were about to cut their hair:
Cut this foolishness!
Cut this foolishness!
Promote your skillfulness
Enough of this modesty
Enough of this naivety!
While it's now hard to imagine that a haircut could cause such a dilemma, consider the case of Ton That Canh. A graduate in Chinese studies under the Confucian education system, Canh cut his hair in 1927, while working as a district chief in Thua Thien. His father, Ton That Tram, a government minister, summoned Canh before a gathering of more than 30 relatives and berated him for cutting his hair. Although Canh already held a high official position, his father then ordered him to lie on the floor while he inflicted 10 strokes with a cane as punishment for the crime of "lack of filial piety".
When a tax revolt broke out in central Vietnam in 1908 under the leadership of patriotic intellectuals, the act of cutting one's hair came to express the spirit of resistance. Everyone from peasants to intellectuals joined the demonstrations, which spread from Quang Nam to Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and north to Thua Thien. Along the way, protesters harangued men to cut their hair, which is why the colonial authorities referred to the demonstrators as "enemy hair cutters" and dubbed the movement "the revolt of the hair cutters". When the movement was suppressed, some men who had not even taken part in the demonstrations were arrested and sentenced to 18 months in jail, simply for having cut their hair!
It was not until after the First World War that short hair became common for Vietnamese men, mainly as a result of the growing urban population. Officials and students were particularly important agents of change. Gradually, rural men also got used to the idea of short hair, although they had to walk to the nearest country town to lop off their tresses. At that time there were no barbers in the countryside.
Many conservative men, however, retained the onion-style chignon of the past, leading newspapers in the 1930s to ridicule them as "ancestors' head lice". Up until the Second World War, Nguyen Van To, a learned Confucian scholar working for a French research institution, remained loyal to the chignon and scarf: thus providing the press of the time with a target of ridicule.
The move towards short hair occurred earlier in the South than in the North, since the French first established themselves in Vietnam's southern provinces. Many of the Vietnamese intellectuals who studied in France returned with short hair.
On the other hand, even into the late 1930s there remained groups in the southern provinces that decried short hair. Followers of two religious sects, the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao, promoted a return to ethnic traditions by wearing the chignon and the long dress. In fact, of this advocacy of old ways can still be heard today. The long and the short of it, it seems, is that breaking with the past has not been easy Wrap Up
Parallel to the question of haircuts was another issue which, although minor, caused quite a stir: the wearing of a scarf. In former times, when a men left his home or received guests he wore a scarf around his head, covering his chignon. Measuring more than an arm's length, these scarves were narrow strips of fabric, usually dyed black, blue, purple, or-in the case of elderly men-a purplish red. To comb one's hair into a chignon and wrap it in a scarf took a good deal of time. According to the writer Nguyen Cong Hoan, around 1920 a man named Hai Chinh invented a pre-wrapped scarf; called the khan xep in the North and the khan dong in the South. Worn like a hat over the chignon, this time-saving headgear consisted of a stiff cardboard frame, some 10cm high, covered with cloth. At the time, people regarded the khan xep as consistent with their national costume. Vietnam's last king, Bao Dai, even wore the khan xep for official engagements. The king's khan xep was gold to distinguish it from the black and blue headgear of other officials
Dykes Keep Vietnam abreast of History’s Tide
Control of the rivers has been crucial to the Vietnamese people’s hard-won ability to survive and thrive in a sometimes unforgiving land. The construction of dykes along rivers is without a doubt one of the most important steps in the emergence of the Vietnamese people.
Before they built dykes, the Viet people had lived as hunters and collectors of wild fruits in hilly areas such as the present-day Phu Tho, Hoa Binh, Thanh Hoa provinces.
There was a revolution in Vietnamese agriculture at the start of the Dong Dau (Bronze Age) and the Iron Age, when people discovered how to raise pigs, chickens, dogs and sticky rice. This was when rice became the chief staple of Vietnam, and came to be seen as a "totem."
Even today, sticky rice is used as a key offering by the Vietnamese people in their ceremonies and worship practices.
As their population increased, the Vietnamese people moved down to the plains of the Hong (Red) River Delta where conditions for agriculture were better. The delta offered more access to water from ponds, lakes and rivers, but also offered a major challenge in the form of irrigation and water management.
They could only survive through proper water management and the cultivation of rice in wet paddies.
The construction of dykes was a challenge beyond anything a single village or community could manage on its own.
The ancient Vietnamese had to unite various tribes to construct dykes for their mutual benefit, and the most respected chief would be called vua (king).
The history of the Vietnamese state can be traced back to those chiefs who knew how to unite people in the common cause of water control and defence against foreign invasions.
The early people’s desire for control over the waters of the Hong River is reflected in the legend of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh (Mountain Spirit and Water Spirit).
The successful marriage of Son Tinh and the king’s daughter, My Nuong, demonstrates the success of the early attempts to conquer the natural flow of the waters.
Dykes cannot simply be built and left alone; the skill was shared from one generation to another. As early as the 3rd Century BC, foreigners visiting Vietnam noted the presence of huge dykes along its rivers.
"The district of Phong Khe has dykes to hold back the water from the Long Mon [now Da] River," said Giao Chau Ky (The Report on Giao Chau - then the name of Vietnam).
Later, the Han Thu (Documents of the Han) observed, "To the northwest of Long Bien district there are dykes to keep back the river water."
By the 9th Century AD, the historical record stated, "Cao Bien ordered the people to construct a dyke around the Dai La citadel with a total length of 8,500m and height of 8m." At the time, Hanoi was known as Dai La Citadel.
When Ly Cong Uan took the throne in 1010, he became the first king of the Ly Dynasty - Vietnam’s first feudal dynasty.
He ordered that the capital be moved from Hoa Lu to Dai La and renamed it Thang Long (now Hanoi), with the ambition of controlling the waters of the Hong River.
In 1077, the Ly Dynasty ordered the construction of a 30km long dyke on the Nhu Nguyet River, now Cau River in the northern province of Bac Ninh.
Twenty-six years later, the dynasty issued Vietnam’s first-ever decree on dyke construction.
As the Tran Dynasty replaced the Ly, the feudal courts not only continued to strengthen the river dykes system but also started the construction of coastal dykes.
They appointed mandarins and officials called Ha De Chanh Pho Su (chief and deputy mandarins for dyke protection) to take care of the dykes.
Under the Le Dynasty in 1664, King Le Huyen Tong issued a detailed regulation on dyke protection and the dykes were strenghtened with rocks.
However, the Nguyen Dynasty could be the most ignorant period of dyke protection in the history of Vietnam. Throughout their reign, the Nguyen courts rarely invested in dyke construction and protection. The many poems from the period reveal that there were 18 dyke brakes under their rule in Hung Yen Province alone.
The reunification of Vietnam in 1975 led again to a united effort in dyke development. A department of dyke management was created in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The State issued the Decree on Dyke Protection and reinforced the existing system to a new level.
Throughout Vietnamese history, the dykes have played an important role in everyday life.
Since ancient times, the mobilization of people to dyke construction sites helped build up the nation’s common identity. Agrarians saw the dykes as a matter of life and death, and as the protector of their crops - especially rice.
The dykes were sometimes ascribed with the hard-working, intelligent, innovative and flexible characteristics of the Vietnamese. They reinforced the sense of community of the people that helped them fight foreign invaders, and regain independence after 1,000 years of feudal Chinese domination. They also created a new cultural space within which the Vietnamese village prospered.
People who dared to move outside of the dyke to live were seen as having strong characters and unwilling to obey the village code and other restrictions.
This idea has even been used to explain the observation that Vietnamese farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta seem to be more outgoing than the more reserved people of the Hong (Red) River Delta.
Each Vietnamese village has its own local culture, linked to the others by the roads built on top of the dykes.
A Russian historian once wrote: "Vietnam has a wet paddy civilization attached to a dyke civilization. These two factors combined have a strength that has made Vietnamese culture endure time and history."