traditional Vietnamese family was patriarchal and the central element
in a tightly structured social system. Families were linked in a
‘clan’ with a common ancestor and consisted of individuals, living
and dead, spanning no more than nine generations. Each individual
was obligated to increase the reputation and status of the clan
throughout his or her lifetime.
Until the arrival of the French colonists and catholicism,
traditional Vietnamese weddings were a completely secular affair
and, for the Buddhist majority, still are. However, at the turn
of the century, Christian converts were beginning to seek religious
A traditional marriage in Vietnam had three purposes:
to perpetuate the clan’s name, its human and material stock, and
its ancestral lineage. Consequently, fecundity and strict adherence
to the rules of Confucius were regarded as essential for a successful
The process began with a family wish to form a beneficial
alliance with another family. To do so, the necessary negotiations
were entrusted to a neutral intermediary. When a suitable family
was identified, and the necessary mutual transactions resolved,
the village astrologer was asked to chart the couple’s horoscopes
using the eight cyclic characters indicating their exact hour, month
and year of birth. If the result was favourable, it was considered
that the couple were fated to be married.
Typically, the potential bride and groom were not
involved in, consulted with, and often not even informed about the
The marriage then proceeded through three separate
1. The proposal of marriage
2. The betrothal
3. The wedding
Each stage was accompanied by various rituals linking
the two families.
The wedding itself began with a double private ceremony.
First, the couple would worship before the ancestral altar of the
bride’s family and before her parents, then repeat the ritual in
the bridegroom’s house. After the latter, the ‘red threads’ ceremony
honoured the Old Woman of the Moon (it was believed that the god
of marriage was an old woman who used magic red strings to bind
the hands of young people together under the moonlight).