AsiaLIFE’s Art Director Thang Pham, who is getting married later this year, takes a look at Vietnam’s wedding traditions.

Marriage is one of the biggest events in a person’s lifetime. It’s the happy ending to a long process of two people falling in love, after crying, laughing, breaking up and falling in love again. At some point, they agree to share a life together.

I am getting married this year and there are many things that need to be prepared for my wedding, which will be a traditional Vietnamese wedding. The closer the event comes, the more surprised I am about what’s involved.

Marriage Proposal

Modern-day wedding traditions have been streamlined slightly to save time and money. However, there are still many rituals that are required. Le dam ngo, the marriage proposal, is the first ritual.

In most cases, such as my own, the couple have already agreed to marry. But the le dam ngo ceremony is still an important part of the process.

Le dam ngo is the first official meeting of the families, and during the meeting the groom’s family will ask permission from the bride’s family for the couple to have the relationship and to learn about each other more before they decide to get married. The groom’s family will also take care of choosing the date for the wedding ceremony.

Betrothal Ceremony

This second ritual is considered the official announcement from the bride’s family that their daughter will get married. This ritual is also an important milestone in the marriage relationship as she is official fiancee of her intended.

On that day, the groom’s family will take offerings to the bride’s family home. The offerings usually include betel leaves and areca nuts, which have a special significance for the marriage. The trunk of the areca palm is straight, signifying the groom’s upstanding nature. Betel leaves are large and round, signifying the bride’s nuturing nature. The tendrils of the betel vine, meanwhile, represent the entwining of two lives.

A Vietnamese expression mieng trau la dau cau chuyen (areca nut is the start of a story) is also relevant, for the story here is the story of the bride and groom’s new life together.

As well as the betel leaves and areca nuts, the groom’s family will also give the bride’s family wine, cake, fruit, roast pork, gold jewellery and an envelope of cash. This shows the gratitude of the groom’s family to bride’s family.

There must be an even number of offerings arranged in an odd number of boxes. These boxes will be brought by a group of unmarried boys who are the groom’s friends or relatives. At the bride’s house, they will give the boxes to a group of unmarried girls. This part requires some pre-planning as there is supposed to be the same number of boys as girls. During this ceremony, the bride will wear a traditional ao dai and the groom wears a suit or an ao dai.

The betrothal ceremony will be held at the bride’s house. After everyone sits and is served tea and cake, a representative of the groom’s family will introduce the people and the reason for the ceremony. When this speech is finished, the representative of bride’s family will speak about how they accept the offerings and proposals. After that, bride’s mother will take her to greet the groom’s family and relatives. Next, the bride will serve tea to the groom’s family and the groom will do the same to the bride’s family.

Finally, bride’s mother will take some gifts and put them onto the family altar. Then, the bride and groom will burn incense to the ancestors. The rest of offerings will be shared with the groom’s family.

Procession Ceremony

The procession ceremony can happen directly after the betrothal ceremony or up to a a few weeks later. A representative of the groom’s family will ask permission from the bride’s family for the groom to take her home. Then both bride and groom will go home in a wedding car. At the groom’s house, they will burn incense to the groom’s ancestors, and greet the groom’s family and relatives one more time.

Wedding Party

The wedding party isn’t part of the traditional wedding rituals, which are celebrated between the two families involved. The party is a newer tradition, a public celebration of the union, and is usually held at a reception centre, with as many invited guests as possible.

In most cases, wedding party guests are greeted outside the reception room by family members seated at a long table. On the table there’s usually a guest book and a wedding money box, where guests place their wedding gifts: envelopes of cash (and the envelopes are usually provided as part of the party invitation package).

The wedding party venue is decorated with photos taken months before the event. There’s usually a big backdrop behind the bride and groom, and a photographer takes a photo of every arriving guest with the happy couple. The groom’s parents usually welcome guests as they enter the reception room.

Once everyone has found their table, a master of ceremonies takes the stage for the official part of the party. The MC will invite the groom to the stage to greet the bride, who will walk along a red carpet to the stage where the groom is waiting.

After that, MC will invite the bride’s parents and the groom’s parents with the representative of the groom’s family come join with both groom and bride. Next, the representative of groom’s family will give a short speech and toast the couple. Then the groom and bride will serve wine to both families as a thank you. The family members will return to their table and the MC will invite the newlyweds to  cut the wedding cake, pour wine into a tower of glasses, serve wine to each other and toast their future with all their guests. This marks the end of the official part of the party.

The guests are then served a multi-course meal. The bride and groom, after a quick costume change, will go to each table thank their guests and toast their big day. Once the final dish has been served, the party is over and guests begin leaving.

The bride and groom usually return to the backdrop to take some more photos with their guests.