I was very fortunate to have a chance to photograph my very first Vietnamese wedding 5 years ago. I truly believe that you have to know exactly what you photograph and in this article I tried to put together everything I learned myself about Vietnamese wedding traditions.
Vietnamese wedding is one of the most important events in Vietnamese culture. Family values are very revered here, so the preparation for the wedding are thorough.
It is worth noting that the formal marriage registration procedure is not as important for Vietnamese couples. Family and friends usually are not invited there, and the newlyweds themselves are dressed in casual clothes.
The celebration of a traditional Vietnamese wedding can last 5-7 days. Usually, though my weddings last 1-3 days.
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Vietnamese Wedding Traditions
Since ancient times, a wedding in Vietnamese culture was the creation of a union of two families. Parents from birth picked a couple to their child, taking into account the material and social status of the family. The marriage process itself took place in several stages and contained many rituals and traditions.
A few months before the wedding, there was an engagement – a meeting of the two families at the bride’s house to confirm the future event, discussion of various arrangements, including a dowry. Often, this event was held without the presence of the bride. The groom, his parents and friends came to the bride’s house with gifts that made special sense:
- betel with the fruits of the areca palm symbolized happiness and love;
- various sweets, fruits.
- odd number of gifts in caskets – as a sign of well-being and material condition;
All gifts were placed on a tray covered in red cloth.
With the help of fortune-tellers and shamans, favourable date of the upcoming event was calculated at, which guaranteed the happy life of the young couple.
On the eve of the wedding, the groom and his friends again paid a visit to the bride’s house to make sure that all arrangements are in force. Because marriages were often forcibly, without regard to the feelings of young people, it happened that brides ran away from home in protest. And this visit was necessary to confirm the wedding.
The night before the wedding made special sense for the bride and her mother. After all, the marriage meant the breakdown of their relationship and the transition of the girl into a new family for her. The mother would comb her daughter’s hair and pass on her knowledge of how to become a good wife and mother.
The main point was considered to be the ceremony in a Catholic temple. The bride was bound to appear before the altar in a traditional red outfit.
Fortunately, today, young people choose their own companions of life, although the family influence on the final decision has the place to even today.
Schedule of a traditional Vietnamese wedding
The wedding celebration consists of the following stages:
- Wedding tea ceremony and candle rite in the bride’s house, ancestor worship;
- Reception of the bride in the groom’s house, ancestor worship;
- Ceremony at the temple or outdoor ceremony;
- Reception at the restaurant.
Let’s plunge into the celebration of a traditional Vietnamese wedding and consider in more detail all the rites. In addition to traditional rites, a special place is occupied by outfits and changes of dresses of the bride throughout the day.
Dam Hoi – Vietnamese Engagement.
The wedding day begins with the arrival of the groom and his relatives at the bride’s house to ask permission to take the sweetheart to his home. It is a very colourful and vibrant event. The groom and his friends carry gifts to the bride and her parents in the form of boxes covered in red cloth.
The boxes contain gifts: betel leaves and areca palm fruit as a sign of happiness and love, fruits, cakes, and lots of jewellery for the bride. Usually, such boxes are 5, 7 or 9. The obligatory attribute is a baked piglet, which is also given by the groom to the parents of his sweetheart.
Gift boxes are given to bridesmaids and unpacked with the whole family, the groom’s representative asks for permission to take the bride home. After these words, the bride is brought out to the guests, and the groom gives her a wedding bouquet. Next, the procession moves to the bride’s house for the wedding tea ceremony.
Vietnamese Wedding Tea Ceremony and candle ritual at the bride’s house.
The most moving and impressive part of the celebration. It is accompanied by ancestor worship at the bride’s family altar.
The Vietnamese people have a tradition – worshipping ancestors in memory of their heritage. Remember where they come from. Each house has an ancestral altar located in its most honourable place. It is an exposition with photographs of ancestors and special giveaways.
The newlyweds and their parents set fire to scented sticks, bow in front of the altar and ask the ancestors to bless this marriage, then bow to their parents and thank them for raising them. The bride and groom bow to each other.
Vietnamese Tea Ceremony
The next stage is a traditional tea ceremony, during which the newlyweds treat the national drink of family representatives. Parents give advice and wishes to the young couple.
Vietnamese Candle Ceremony.
After the tea ceremony, a candle ceremony is held. It symbolizes the unity and fusion of two families: two small candles, as a symbol of individual life and separate clans set fire to one large candle – a symbol of the new union. Very gentle and touching tradition.
There is a turn to reveal their gifts and representatives from the bride. The groom’s mother will be able to put on her daughter-in-law a pair of happiness jewelry.
Bride reception at groom’s house
This part of the wedding ceremony is not held in the modern world, but was part of the Vietnamese wedding day. The groom brought the bride to his house, where to meet with his parents. A similar ceremony was held at the groom’s family altar. The bride was shown her new home and marriage bed.
What to give on Vietnamese newlyweds?
Since the wedding is filled with rites and traditions, gifts are also symbolic. Guests donate fruits, flowers, caskets and envelopes with money to young people.
Newly minted husband and wife it is customary to sprinkle watermelon seeds as a wish of beautiful and healthy children.
Traditional Vietnamese wedding outfits
Vietnamese brides are fortunate because on the day of the wedding they have a chance to wear multiple dresses (some of my brides disagreed on that 🙂 It’s a beautiful and fun tradition. Often, the bride prepares four dresses: for a blessing ceremony, for the ceremony at the church, for a photoshoot, for the reception.
Ao Dai for the bride.
The traditional Vietnamese outfit is Ao Dai. The bride’s wedding outfit consists of a headdress, pants and a silk tunic.
The tunic is put on top of pants. Ao Dai sew-in red made of silk and decorated with golden braid and embroidery. It is believed that the red colour brings good luck to the young family.
In it, the bride first appears before the groom, she appears in Ao Dai at the blessing ceremony and during the candle rite.
It is worth noting that more and more brides dress up in white Ao Dai, complemented by a white rim on the head. Thus bringing the appearance closer to Western traditions.
More recently, it has become popular to hold a traditional American marriage ceremony. And for the bride, it is also an opportunity to wear her “special white dress”. There are no rules or restrictions here. Whether it’s a curvy dress or an elegant fitted one. These dresses often used for photoshoots.
The third dress is meant for celebration in the restaurant (reception). It can be of any style and shades, according to the wishes of the bride.
In another outfit, brides suposed to wear is for the a ride on a rickshaw. A rickshaw is a special mode of transport, a wagon on two wheels, which is led by a person. Traditionally, newliweds on the wedding day were riding on rickshaws, lushly decorated with flowers. We don’t really have it but usually on Vietnamese wedding you can see something similar.
Groom for the blessing ceremony usually wear a Khan Dong Ao Dai costume — Ao Dai dress complete with Khan Dong, a special headpiece in the form of a ribbon wound around the head. Men’s suits are red or can be blue. Classic European costumes of dark tones are chosen for the Catholic wedding ceremony.
We have already mentioned that the main marriage ceremony is held at the family altar, because of a deep appreciation to ancestors in Vietnamese culture.
But, modern fashion trends dictate new variations to celebrate the marriage ceremony. Therefore, Catholic couples practice classical tradition at the temples, where the bride arrives in a luxurious white dress with a veil.
Other couples opt for an away ceremony with a flower arch, rose petals and the bride’s corridor. It can be both the ceremony site of the reception area, and the park with a beautiful landscape, hotel or your favourite Venue with the view to the ocean (we have plenty of that in California).
The wedding scenario can vary according to the preferences of the newlyweds if there is no strict family framework or restrictions, and all essential rites are covered.
Vietnamese Wedding Reception
At the end of all official ceremonies, the newlyweds and their guests arrive at the restaurant to continue the celebration. Photoshoots have long become an indispensable attribute of any holidays, and especially weddings. Therefore, upon arrival at the banquet hall, guests take turns taking photos with young people in a specially prepared photo area. This tradition is known as “welcome photos“.
On my weddings it’s very common to take photos with all guest. And there are over 500 people sometimes. We can’t control the reception lightning situation, but we can bring our own. We setup a place, background and light specifically for that and making sure it’s all done perfectly. It is usually installed at the entrance to the hall. Photo cards are printed immediately on-site and presented to guests 20-30 min later.
Another must-see rite is the newlyweds bypassing guest tables. Husband and wife approach each table, starting with the closest family. Here, joyful toasts with best wishes and the loud ringing of glasses are heard. Here you can see sincere smiles, shining eyes and strong hugs. Thus, a warm and favourable family atmosphere is created.
There is also lots of traditions borrowed from American weddings. Everyone know and loved the first dance, as well as the dance with the parents. Cake cutting ceremony.
Throwing bouquet. Dancing, lots of dances, wishes and competitions!
The Vietnamese wedding is a very colorful, fun and loud family holiday. With many rituals and traditions where every detail matters.
From my personal experience each Vietnamese wedding would be different from each other. If couple choose to do 1 day wedding that they have limited space for all the rituals and probably would do tea ceremony and couple more things. If couple to choose to do 3 day wedding then it’s very likely we will see everything!
If you even have a chance to attend Vietnamese wedding, do not missed it! It’s a lot of fun!