CUSTOMS IN VIETNAM
Past and present
Nguyen Tuan Hung | Basis of
Vietnamese Cultural Profile | December 2017
TABLE OF CONTENT
Wedding customs – Past
The trade-off between
Past and Present………………………………………….
Irrespective of country, wedding
ceremonies are watershed, events that mark the page-turning point of two
people. Vietnamese people are no exception to this unwritten rule. May it be
medieval or modern day, weddings are unfailingly the splendor of traditional
beauty for Vietnamese people. As time elapses, Vietnamese wedding customs have
experienced renovation under the influence of Western-perpetuating culture. The
young adults nowadays do not attribute grave concern for the wedding, sometime
recognizing it as redundant. Nonetheless, the beauty of culture should always
be revered while keeping pace with the modern impacts. In this essay, several
major aspects worth comparison between wedding in the present and in the past
are carefully analyzed.
customs – Past and Present
In the past, prior to officiating the wedding or even
entering into marriage, the choice of marital partner of either the man or the
woman has to be agreed upon by both families. The couples can only transfer
into marriage if each family recognizes the socio-economic status of the other
as palatable and that the marriage will not collapse into misalliance; or if
astrological-mystical affinities of the marital partners match harmoniously. It
was only when the aforementioned conditions are accommodated that the couple
will receive the blessings from the parents.
Vietnamese mentality places great premium on the wedding,
often perceiving it as the big announcement to their relatives and neighbors
about the marriage. This pleasant occasion is a time people gather up, party
and share the happiness with the bride and groom, as well as their respective
families. Such is the importance of the wedding that seniors used to attribute
it with superior significance in relation with the wedding certificate.
Weddings, therefore, are ascribed with holiness.
In the present context of society, the importance of weddings
is still preserved and cherished. However, the couples have a more major voice
over their happiness, they are more entitled to get to know their partners on
their own and can later officiate weddings to prove their commitment. The
weddings are no longer based on whether the social status of the families
Apart from the weddings, the couple has to get their wedding
certificate and this is an inevitable factor, determining the marriage.
Nonetheless, the preconceived idea of wedding is still the receiving of the
blessings from the families, relatives and friends, as well as the celebration.
The Chinese-ingrained beliefs have profoundly influenced
Vietnamese wedding ceremonies. The weddings in the past is more long-drawn-out,
with unnecessary red tapes. The traditional steps include:
Match-making: The parents of the couple will meet up through
social networking and discuss the marriage beforehand, prior to introducing the
bride-to-be and groom-to-be to their respective spouses.
Cheo ceremony: This is a relatively outdated step that can
take place either many days before the wedding, or just a day after wedding. On
this ceremony, the groom’s families will offer money or gifts to the village
where the bride reside so that the bride’s neighborhood will officially accept
him as part of the bride’s family.
Proposing, or Dam Ngo: The day the groom’s family come to
bride’s family to ask the permission for the couple’s love.
Engagement: Some days before the wedding, the groom family
will visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as
Wedding: The couple’s love is acknowledged and the forming of
a family is originated, celebrated by their families, relatives, and friends.
Asking permission to receive the bride
Revisiting: The day after their wedding, the couple must go
to the bride’s home, making a traditional meal from steamed glutinous rice to
fruits, placing on the altar. This is interpreted as a sign of piety on the
part of the bride and also to prove to everyone that she had satisfied the
Some of the time-honored wedding traditions are welcomingly
preserved, while some unnecessarily trivial formalities are rendered outmoded
to correspond with the modern, more cultured setting.
The five key traditional steps which prevail in the modern
context are marriage proposal, betrothal ceremony (engagement ceremony),
wedding, and revisiting. More often than not, the long-standing customs, such
as asking permission to receive the bride or bride reception, have been
incorporated into these four steps. However, in the countryside or
less-developed regions of Vietnam, where the progress of civilization has not
penetrated entrenched lifestyles, the wedding rites may be retained. The
wedding ceremony is hosted on either the bride and groom’s neighborhood, or
more refined, in a restaurant or hotel.
Adhering to the age-old belief, people include five main
offerings: Areca nuts, wine and tobacco, traditional cakes, tea – lotus jam,
and fruits. Other than these five key offerings, each culture within Vietnam
add their own little taste – a roasted pig and wedding cake for people in the
Central Vietnam; Ao dai for people in
Southern Vietnam. Regardless of the background and beliefs, every culture alike
interprets these gifts as the beginning of a happy, wealthy life.
For the fruits and cakes tray, traditional Vietnamese
families often use two types of cake at the same time, connoting the
well-balanced mixture of Yin and Yang. Some of the combinations include green
rice cakes (Yin) and Husband-and-Wife cake (Yang), rectangular Chung cake (Yin) and round Day cake (Yang). These cakes are wrapped
in the radiant red color, which signals happiness and ecstasy.
Nowadays, fundamentally the wedding tray has not undergone
drastic changes, although each region may have their own version of wedding
tray, with an addition of money.
The offerings remain according to the traditions. However,
the material-based society as of now means that some expensive accessories such
as rings, necklaces, or earrings are included.
In the old days, the wedding announcement spread around
through words of mouth, since the wedding are mostly celebrated by people who
dwell in the bride or groom’s neighborhood. Around the 1960s, the first wedding
invitation letter made it appearance – the “pink” wedding invitation letter.
Such is the place of this letter in the traditions of Vietnam that it has been
ascribed with happiness and wedding announcement. Adorned by exceptionally
elaborate handwriting and trademark perfume, the letter specified the time,
date, and venue for the wedding in one piece of paper.
Since the 1990s, new templates of wedding invitation letter
are engendered and brought into, which present larger scope of choices for the
wedding planners and couples to choose the best-suited. These days, the
invitation letters are excruciatingly made with meticulous effort and are much
220.127.116.11.Wedding photos/photo books
The lack of monetary resources in the past means that the
wedding photos are rare for families from low or mid-tiers. If the families can
afford photos, the quality is inferior, mostly black and white. More wealthy
families may meet the expenses for colored photos, but not many.
The technology of photography progressed superlatively, which
facilitates better-quality photos and photobook. Couples nowadays attach great
importance to the wedding albums, most even go to great length to bedeck their
photobooks to every little details. From pictures to videos, all are utilized
to capture the happiest moments of the bride and groom.
Most Vietnamese brides in the old days used to dress in a
reserved manner for their wedding day and the same applied for female wedding
attendees. The traditional Ao dai
predominated in such occasions, honoring the long-established wedding dress
code. The outfits and Ao dai worn on
this day are vividly variegated, engendering a fitting joyful atmosphere. For
the groom, as well as male wedding attendees, the formal choice of suits and
suit pants prevailed.
These days, in the betrothal ceremony (engagement ceremony),
most brides wear traditional Ao dai,
often renovated and custom-made, woven with flamboyant patterns and design. In
wedding days, in contrast, most prefer western apparel, remodeling their
wedding day with a twist of modern mode: The bride is dressed in white wedding
dress and the groom wear suits. With time, choices of wedding attires multiply.
trade-off between Past and present
Through many years of civilization and modernization, wedding
traditions and ceremonies have been restructured to fit the modern context,
while preserving their cultural beauty. In a materialistic society, however,
most people overlook weddings, considering them as opportunities to build
Now or then, the signs of happiness
and wealth are similarly symbolized by areca nuts and the radiant color red. In
general, the transformation from past to present has been positive; in lieu of
unwarranted, time-consuming depraved customs, the modern version has compacted
into one small yet meaningful event. Regarding whether weddings should be
restored to its original form, opinions are polarized. Some identify
traditional weddings with the true definition of wedding, other attribute them
with wastefulness and tedium. All things concerned, wedding traditions are
still in process of refining and in the foreseeable they may reach the state of
perfection. For now, modern weddings are relatively tailor-made for the goals
of celebrating happiness.
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