Births are a low-key affair in Vietnam. After an explosive
baby boom at the end of the war, families are now penalised
if they have more than two children. The need for the policy
is widely recognised, and most couples adhere to it.
the cities, babies are usually born in hospital, and the father
is expected to be present throughout the birth. There is no
celebration or gift–giving, although the father might use
the event as an excuse for a night out with his friends at
the bia hoi. The new mother and baby have no visitors for
30 days after the birth, during which time they are looked
after by the family. Being visited by, or visiting, a pregnant
or new mother is believed to bring bad luck.
When the baby is three months old, there is a naming ceremony
and a celebration. Unusually, the transition from child to
adult is only marked by official regulations – the event is
otherwise completely ignored. All births are required to be
registered. This regulation is usually adhered to in urban
areas, but elsewhere, and particularly among ethnic groups,
a significant number often go unrecorded.
Vietnamese marriages are a much more significant event, but
the official and the traditional sides are separate. The official
act of marriage consists only of signing a form.
traditional wedding is, inevitably, a family occasion. The
betrothal period is either brief or nonexistent – the period
between the decision to marry and the wedding can be quite
short and is unrelated to the official procedure. The approval
of both families is very important – although the tradition
of arranged marriages has died out, the event is looked upon
as uniting two existing families, and going against parents’
wishes is most unlikely.
critical factor is choosing the most propitious day, which
involves a consultation with an astrologist. Prior to the
event, there will be a ritualised exchange of gifts between
the families who visit each other’s houses for that purpose.
On the day, a banquet will be held, usually around lunchtime.
Each family and its invited guests will sit separately, sometimes
in another room, and the bride and groom will move from table
to table to greet them and thank them for their gifts and
good wishes. Gifts customarily consist of money in envelopes:
the trick is to balance the cost of the wedding with the total
of the gifts!
Funerals are also a major event. The death is announced, and
the funeral gets under way shortly after. An altar is erected
with a picture of the deceased, and in the north, a trio of
musicians is hired to play traditional funeral music for two
days. Buddhist monks are invited to chant the ritual incantations.
and relatives visit to pay their condolences, bringing offerings
of incense and money for the family. Family members wear white
headbands and each of the deceased’s daughters wears a white
muslin veil covering most of her body.
two days, the mourners gather for the funeral procession,
arranged according to complex customs. Traditionally, the
procession walks on foot behind the coffin. Any daughters
or daughters-in-law walk immediately behind the catafalque
with heads bowed to touch its edge, while the eldest son walks
backwards barefoot in front of the deceased. Once the corpse
is interred, the tomb remains open for seven days.
continues for two years, with rituals taking place at defined
intervals and at a final ceremony. In the north, the remains
are then exhumed and reburied in a small shrine as their final
resting place. Both in the north and south, the position of
the grave is determined by geomancy.
foregoing relates only to the Vietnamese ‘Kinh’ majority.
Minority ethnic groups have many different practices, sometimes