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Wedding is very important to Vietnamese, not only to the couple involved, but also for both families. Thus, it is usually including quite a few formal ritual observances. The Wedding day is usually chosen well in advance by the groom and the bride's parents (in the old time, it is not necessarily Saturday or Sunday, as well as they believe it is good based on the groom and the bride's age).
Depending on habits of specific ethnic groups, marriage includes various steps and related procedures, but generally there are two main ceremonies:
Le an hoi (betrothal ceremony): Some time before the wedding, the groom and his family visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel leaves, tea, cake, fruits, wines and other delicacies covered with red cloth and carried by unmarried girls or boys. Both families agree to pick a good day for wedding.
Le cuoi (wedding ceremony): Guests would be invited to come to join a party and celebrate the couple’s happiness. The couple should pray before the altar asking their ancestors for permission for their marriage, then to express their gratitude to both groom’s and bride’s parents for raising and protecting them. Guests will share their joy at a party later.
On the wedding day, the groom's family and relatives go to the bride's house bringing a lot of gifts wrapped in red papers. These gifts are similar to those of the engagement: betel leaves and areca nuts, wines, fruits, cakes, tea ... Those who hold these trays are also carefully chosen, usually they are happily married couples. Ladies and women are all dressed in Ao Dai. Men could be in their suits or men traditional Ao Dai. The troop are usually led by a couple that is most wealthy and successful among the relatives, this means to wish the to-be-wed couples a blessing life together in the future.
The groom's family would stop in the font of the bride's house. The leading couple should enter the house first bringing a tray with wine and tiny cups on it. They would invite the bride's parents to take a sip. By accepting the toast, the bride's family agree for the groom family to enter their house. The firework is immediately fired to greet the groom's family.
The groom's family would introduce themselves and ask permission for their son to marry his bride. The Master of the Ceremony (usually a respected person among the bride's relatives) instructs the bride's parents to present their daughter. The bride then follows her parents out. She is in Vietnamese traditional wedding Ao Dai which is usually in red. Followed are her bride maids. The wedding ceremony starts in front of the altar. The bride and the groom would kneel down and pray, asking their ancestors' permission to be married, also asking for blessing on their family-to-be. The couple then turn around and bow down to the bride's parents to say thank for raising and protecting her since birth. They then bow their head to each other, which means to show their gratitude and respect toward their soon-to-be husband or wife. The Master of the Ceremony would gave the wedding couple advices on starting a new family. The groom and the bride's parents would take turn to share their experience and give blessing. The groom and the bride then exchange their wedding rings. The parents will give the newly wedded value gifts such as golden bracelets, ear rings, necklace... The ceremony is ended with a round applause.
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 chamber.
Today, a lot of Vietnamese couples have their wedding ceremony done in Temples or Churches which is very much similar to American and Western style, including exchanging vows and wedding rings. However, they still maintain Vietnamese traditional ceremony in the bride's home before heading to temples or churches.
A wedding banquet is scheduled in the evening at a hotel or a big restaurant. It is always a delight feast that all relatives, friends, and neighbors are invited. A music band is usually hired to play live songs.
At the banquet, the groom, bride, and their family are once again introduced to the guests and everyone will drink a toast. Dinner will be served at the tables.
During the reception, the groom, bride, and their parents will stop by each table to say thank to their guests. The guest in return, will give envelopes containing wedding cards and money gifts to the newly wedded couples along with their blessing. A lot of weddings nowadays are followed by a dancing party, which is opened by the groom and the bride's first dance. The party does not recess until very late at night. The newly wedded couples then leave for their honey moon.