Marriage is seen as one of the most important events in a person’s life in Vietnam, as it is across the world. It is also an important part of Vietnamese culture. It brings together family and friends, incorporates many customs and necessitates plenty of preparation.
It’s written in the stars
To have a marriage, there must be a joining of two people in wedlock. Traditionally, this was arranged by the families of the people who were to be married, often using the services of matrimonial agents as go-betweens. Before the families got together, however, an astrologer – usually a Buddhist monk learned in the art – would be consulted by each side to see if the match was a good one.
Once a positive outcome had been ascertained, the families discussed the ‘bride price’. This dowry was then used to cover the cost of hosting the groom’s family for the engagement and wedding ceremonies. If the bride’s family broke off the engagement, the payment was returned. If the groom’s family reneged on the deal, it was kept.
Age is not just a number
It was seen as ideal for the groom to be older than the bride by a couple of years or so. Male offspring were married off between 20 and 30 and female offspring between 18 and 25, wherever possible. Bachelors over 35 and spinsters over 30 would be a source of shame to the family. Because women were less able to be a source of income, unmarried women were seen as more of a burden.
However, arranged marriages have become less and less common in Vietnam and today it is usual for young people to choose their own partner. The family – particularly the parents – still retain a large amount of influence, though. They are able to exert a lot of pressure on the couple to discourage the partnership if they disapprove of it.
Once everyone is in agreement, the engagement and betrothal can take place. Traditionally, the engagement ceremony was six months before the wedding and the couple would see little of each other until their wedding day. Now, the engagement ceremony often happens the day before the wedding, or even on the same day. This is to cut costs and enable guests to only have to travel once.
Choose wedding day carefully
The choice of the day on which the marriage will take place is seen as a very important decision. An astrologer is again often consulted to help ensure that the day, and the rest of the marriage, goes well. Leading up to and on the wedding day itself, there have traditionally been a number of ceremonies that take place. These are:
- asking permission to receive the bride;
- receiving the bride at her house;
- bringing the bride to the groom’s house; and
- a reception for wedding guests.
The first of these involved the groom’s family visiting the bride’s family and was used to check, close to the wedding day, that the wedding was still going to take place. Since there is active choice on the part of the couples in the majority of weddings these days, this ceremony is now largely obsolete.
Look busy, the day has come
The second ceremony is the first that happens on the wedding day itself. The groom and a few of his close relatives travel to the bride’s house bearing an odd number of gifts wrapped in red on red trays. Female relatives of the bride receive the gifts on behalf of the bride from their male counterparts. Various rituals take place. These include:
- the Permission Ceremony – where the couple ask their ancestors to bless their marriage; or
- prayers asking for God’s blessings if the family is Catholic;
- a tea and candle ceremony;
- advice given by each of the parents to the newlyweds; and
- jewellery gifted by the groom being put on the bride by the bride’s mother.
Following this, the groom traditionally takes the bride back to his parents’ house. There, the couple meets the groom’s family and is shown the marriage bed. Nowadays, this ceremony is sometimes left until after the reception of the guests or omitted altogether, because the couple will often have their own house, rather than live at the house of the groom’s parents.
Time to really get the party started
The ceremonies up until this point of the wedding will have only included members of the close family from each side. The reception changes all that. Wedding receptions often host several hundred guests at least who are served lavish 7-10 course meals. Again, this part of the day was traditionally held at the groom’s house, but it is often now held at hall hired for the occasion.
During the event, the bride and groom will visit each table and thank the guests for coming. Guests will give them cards and gifts of money in red envelopes as wedding presents.