the photographs on this page, we've used the wedding of one of our
staff members, Ms. Hang. Hang and Mr. Minh, her husband, now have
a year-old son and are very happy!
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.