International Bride: The Weddings of Vietnam

by: Michael Kabel

The wedding ceremony in Vietnam draws its tradition from both Confucian and Buddhist beliefs. It's one of the most important events in Vietnamese culture. Though the attire and the pageantry are more secular, the aspects of the wedding ceremony itself are very spiritual and treated with the utmost reverence.

The engagement

In times past most weddings, especially in the rural countryside, were arranged affairs often decided by parents or by village elders. While this has changed somewhat in recent years allowing young people the opportunity to choose their own spouses, arranged marriages are still not uncommon.

As in Western cultures, engagements are announced a prior to the marriage date. In the cities, an engagement ceremony may be done as soon as the day before, though in the countryside a month's notice was more common.

Both families sit down to discuss the time of the ceremony, based on the time and day of the lunar calendar. Representatives appointed by each family also discuss final negotiations for the dowry. Gifts are also given to the new couple, of an odd number and draped in red cloth, to bring good fortune.

The wedding ceremony

The wedding is an elaborate event that traditionally consists of several different ceremonies. In the past, the mother of the groom would travel to the bride's family's house and ask to receive her into their own home. The groom's mother would often bring gifts of betel spice as a goodwill offering. Some believed this special trip also served to verify that the marriage was still going to happen. This custom has now largely become obsolete, however, following the end of arranged marriages.

The groom then leads a procession to the bride's house, accompanied by a representative (usually someone with high social esteem), the groom's father, and many other family and friends. The groom and his family bring gifts in lacquer boxes covered with red cloth. Gifts can include betel, wine, sweet breads and cakes, jewelry, and even a roast pig. Firecrackers are lit as they arrive to announce their presence.

Brides traditionally wear elaborate Ao dai robes inspired by the fashions of the Nguyen Dynasty two hundred years ago. They may also wear traditional Western-style white gowns or dresses.

The ceremony begins with prayers at the altar of the bride's family's ancestors. The bride and groom light incense and ask the ancestors for their blessings. The bride and groom then perform an elaborate tea serving ceremony to their parents. The parents give their advice and good wishes.

The bride and groom then light a candle to show their union. Then, the groom's mother places the gift jewelry brought with the groom's family on the bride. In some modern weddings the bride and groom exchange Western-style wedding rings.

As they leave the bride's house, the new couple is given red envelopes of money to help them set up housekeeping.

Finally, the couple returns to the groom's house, where they also ask his ancestors for their blessing. The bride is introduced to the groom's extended family and shown her marriage bed.

The reception banquet

A large reception banquet follows all the ceremonies, with much feasting. Guests sometimes number into the hundreds. Guests are expected to give generous gifts, usually money to help the new couple pay for the festivities.