In Vietnam, a wedding is one of the most important ceremonies in a person’s life. Just as Vietnam continues to change every day, Vietnamese wedding customs have continued to change dynamically from the engagement process to the wedding day, and even ceremonies celebrating the fantastic day.
In traditional Vietnam, children were not included in the decision making process of finding a spouse. It was customary for parents to find a suitable partner, and then arrange to meet with the potential spouse’s parents. This process was just as important as the engagement and wedding itself, the event was called the betrothal ceremony.
The betrothal ceremony was generally held at the bride’s parents’ house with both parental parties present. The groom’s parents would arrive bearing gifts of areca nuts, betel leaves, and sometimes jewelry or money as a dowry. Both parties would determine if the proposed marriage would be beneficial to the family names and standing.
During the ceremony, it was not uncommon for a fortune teller to be consulted during the entire process. The fortune teller would predict the compatibility of the children, and he would also indicate the precise date and time the marriage should occur. Both the parents’ and fortune teller’s opinions were highly regarded, and if anyone disapproved of the arrangement, the wedding would be called off.
In modern times, the betrothal ceremony has become less important in marriage arrangement. As many children find love on their own, parents no longer arrange marriages. However, the parents’ opinions are still very important, and if a parent disapproves of a future husband or wife, a child will generally break off any relationship. Also, a fortune teller is often consulted to determine compatibility and the date of the wedding.
After the betrothal ceremony, there would be a six-month waiting period before the wedding. During the waiting period, both parties would make preparations for the wedding day ceremonies. Even during the long engagement period, the future husband and wife would still not meet each other, often they would not meet until the day of the wedding ceremony.
Today of course, the engagement process has changed drastically. Both families spend much time and money on preparations for the wedding day. Also, due to the influx of different religions and ethnic groups, various ceremonies need to be performed, and extended family members may need to travel long distances for the wedding and any associated ceremonies. The engagement period may be extended to several years if the groom or bride is working or studying overseas.
The Wedding Day
On the day of the wedding, a party is gathered at the groom’s house in the morning. This party consists of the groom’s closest family members and friends. In traditional times, female members of the party would wear a red ao dai (traditional dress of Vietnam), and male members would wear a blue male ao dai. In modern times, women still wear ao dais, but males generally wear dark suits.
From the groom’s house, a procession is held to the bride’s house. Leading the procession is a distinguished relative of the groom, followed by happily married couples carrying gifts of areca nuts, betel leaves, fruits, roasted ducks and pigs, all wrapped with red paper. At the end of the procession is the groom with his family members. The procession generally walks to the bride’s house, but in modern times the procession may take cyclos or cars if the distance is too far to walk.
Upon arrival at the bride’s house, the leading relative enters and presents the procession to the bride’s parents. At this point, the leading married couple enters with two small cups of wine; if the bride’s parents drink from the cups then the groom and his family may enter the house and the ceremony can proceed. During traditional times, fireworks would be launched at this time, but due to current laws and regulations this practice is now illegal in Vietnam.
During the ceremony, a distinguished relative of the bride acts as the Master of Ceremony. Once the groom and his family have entered the house, the Master of Ceremony will instruct the bride’s parents to retrieve the bride. They will present their daughter dressed in a red ao dai and wearing a traditional Vietnamese headdress. The bride and groom will then proceed to the ancestral altar.
At the ancestral altar, the bride and groom ask for a blessing on their marriage from the bride’s ancestors. The couple turns and thanks the bride’s parents for raising the bride, and then turn to thank the groom’s parents. It is at this point the new couple is decorated with jewelry from the parents as a gift of prosperity. Some couples exchange rings at this point as well.
For some modern weddings, newly wed couples and their guests may move to a church to exchange vows and rings if the bride or groom is Christian. The bride may even change from her traditional red ao dai into a modern white wedding dress for the church ceremony.
After the wedding ceremonies, the newly weds and guests travel to the groom’s house. At the groom’s house the newly weds pray at the ancestral altar to ask the groom’s ancestors for their blessings. After the prayers, the couple leads the bride’s parents to the couple’s bedroom. Here the parents will inspect the living quarters and determine if it is suitable for their daughter. This was done in traditional times because the bride was expected to live with the groom’s family for the rest of her life. Even today, the bride maybe expected to live with the groom’s family for up to a year or more, but some couples may already have a house or apartment.
Once the bridal party has inspected the living quarters, there is a party held for family and friends. This party is very large and may consist of hundreds of guests. In traditional times, the party was held at the groom’s house. Today, most parties are held at a restaurant, hotel or banquet hall.
After-Wedding Dinner and Ceremony
The after-wedding party is a time for the new couple to celebrate their new life together with friends and family. Guests will generally bring gifts for the new couple; also, guests are expected to bring money to bless the new couple with prosperity. Due to the size and grandeur of the ceremony, the money is generally used to pay for the event. In modern times, the average amount presented is $100 to $200 per guest.
The ceremony will feature a large feast for guests sometimes consisting of up to 10 dishes. During the ceremony, the new couple and their parents will visit each table and thank the guests personally for coming to celebrate the occasion. In modern times, the bride may change her dress three times during the wedding. The bride is expected to arrive in her traditional red ao dai, and for many modern brides they desire to present themselves in a beautiful white wedding gown for their guests. As the night moves on, the bride may change to a white evening gown for dancing and celebrations.
The wedding night continues late into the night with dancing and drinking amongst friends. After the ceremonies, many modern couples will take a honeymoon in Vietnam or abroad. A popular honeymoon location for Saigon weddings is Da Lat, a beautiful mountain city in central Vietnam. The city is known for its beautiful landscape and has been given the unofficial title of “The Little Paris of Vietnam”.
Just as Vietnam is going through dynamic economic changes, there is a sense of cultural change as well. Many customs of Vietnamese weddings are still retained in modern times, but some have changed or are disappearing as Vietnam continues to make its marvelous transformation as a developing nation. Even on a week long visit to Saigon, tourists can see the blending of tradition and modernity on the streets of Saigon. If you are lucky, you may see a blushing bride in her beautiful white wedding gown with her husband outside Notre Dame Cathedral taking wedding photographs.
For information on modern weddings in Vietnam, take an afternoon or evening to visit the upcoming “Royal Wedding Fair 2011”. For more information on the “Royal Wedding Fair 2011”, please visit their website at:
If you would like more information on traditional weddings in Vietnam, please take a moment to visit these websites: