05/23/2010

Contemporary Vietnamese Traditional Weddings

The pace of change

Compared to how weddings in Vietnam are carried out in the past, there are notably significant differences to the modern traditional weddings in the country today. Cost is among the most obvious differences. Because of the growing sociable nature of people, pressures arising from these social relationships often lead to families of marrying couples having to spend a considerable amount of money to be able to throw a grand wedding bash and invite everyone in their circle of friends. Trying to keep up an image in the society is also another reason why marrying couples, as well as their families, are often compelled to either use up their entire life savings or borrow huge sums of money and spend the rest of their years trying to pay it off.

There is also a remarkable difference on the age of the couple intending to marry. In the past, age ranges of 16 to 18 for women and 20 to 21 for men were considered ideal ages to marry. But along with Western influences and the awareness of the value of education, maturity and the need to pursue a career, most of the middle-class city dwellers prefer to get married at a much later age. Working class couples, however, tend to marry earlier.

Contemporary beliefs

Before, when parents from both families mutually agree on setting up their children for marriage, both the bride and groom have no option but to oblige according to their parents’ wishes. Now, the traditional practice of matchmaking is no longer observed as much as it was in the past. However, the views of the couple’s parents are still strongly honored, and if the parents believe that the prospective spouse is unsuitable, young people have to heed their parents’ decision and end the relationship. Women above the age of 30 and men above 35 years old are considered too old for marriage. Usually, when they reach those ages, both the individuals’ and families’ standards for finding a partner tend to become more lenient. For them, having a partner, regardless of not being able to meet their expectations is better than not having a partner at all.

Some young people often seek the services of an astrologer to determine beforehand whether their planned union would be favorable. If the astrologer’s reading yield negative results, couples mostly stop pursuing each other and withdraw their plans of marrying.

Arranging the marriage

Before any marriage will take place, the young man’s parents usually consult a fortune-teller to see whether the couple is destined to live together as husband and wife. If so, the man’s family sets out a plan for their son to formally request the young woman's hand.

The practice of making the actual request is done by the young man's parents, or aunt and uncle if he is an orphan, and a middle person who goes out to inform the young woman's parents. The party brings along presents 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 for the marriage preparations.

The engagement

The next stage in the process is the engagement period, which, once the consent has been given, usually follows several months after. However, in certain circumstances where one of the partners is studying in a distant university or perhaps working abroad, it can take much longer. Since Vietnamese people believe that some days are particularly auspicious, carefully choosing the appropriate days for the engagement and the wedding is another important decision for them, which they often turn to fortune-tellers for sound advice.

If the fiancée or her family decides to break off the engagement for any reason, they are obliged to return the gifts to the young man’s family. However, if the fiancé himself backs out from the planned wedding, the girl’s family is allowed to keep the presents.

The engagement is always considered a solemn ceremony. On that particular day, the young man, along with his entire family, comes to the house of the bride-to-be bringing along gifts such as betel nuts, cake, wine and cigarettes. Traditionally, young women wear red ao dais and a banquet is held after formal rituals are performed before the ancestral altar. The engagement ceremony is deemed the opportunity for the young woman's family to meet their future son-in-law and his family.

The wedding day

The wedding is the final stage of the entire preparation. The bride and groom are purposely prevented from seeing each other before the actual ceremony to avoid misfortunes and bad luck. On the night before the wedding, the bride’s mother will tend her daughter’s hair with several combs, on which, every comb holds a symbolic meaning. The third comb is believed to be the most important as it is the opportunity to ask for good fortune and happiness.

On the actual wedding day, the bride’s family, along with the invited guests, gathers at her house to await the arrival of the groom. Shortly before the groom’s party comes, the bride slips away to don her wedding dress.

Gifts from the groom's family

The groom’s parents and his immediate relatives are preceded by an odd number of young men smartly dressed in shirt and tie, worn with dark trousers. Each carries 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, and tea. Though the young men carrying such gifts used to walk in the past, this part of modern-day wedding parties is now carried out with the use of automobiles.

Vietnamese tradition looks at red as a lucky color that will lead to a promising future. Thus, in traditional Vietnamese weddings, red also becomes a dominant color. Such belief is widely practiced even today. And though there are several changes employed to the traditional ways, the entire concept remains the same. So upon arrival the young men carrying the presents, the same number of young women dressed in red ao dais are expected to meet them, receive the gifts, and the same young women are tasked to take the gifts inside the house. There is a superstition that anyone who helps out in the wedding ceremony who does not receive his or her due share of compensation, either in money or goods, may not have the chance to marry. So during the time the gifts are handed over to the women, each of the young women also hands her male counterpart a small amount of money.

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 offers the bride’s parents a drink. By accepting the toast, the bride’s parents symbolically agree to admit the groom’s party. In the past, the acceptance is often celebrated by lighting firecrackers. But the risks for accidents and recent regulations on firecracker use had put an end to the tradition.

The groom's family introduce themselves and asks permission for their son to marry their daughter. A respected person from the bride's family usually hosts the ceremony and instructs the bride’s parents to formally present their daughter. It is during this moment where the bride comes in, dressed in a traditional red ao dai. The groom, on the other hand, wears a dark suit or a black ao dai.

The ceremony

The wedding ceremony is performed in front of the altar. Both the bride and the groom kneels down to pray and seek for their ancestors' blessing to be married. The couple then pays respect to the bride’s parents by bowing to them and thanking them for raising and protecting her since birth. After that, both couples bow their heads on each other - - - a gesture which symbolizes their gratitude and respect for their chosen life partners. The Master of Ceremonies then advises the marrying couple on starting a new family, after which, the parents from both sides take their turn in sharing their experiences and giving their blessings.

At this point, the groom and the bride exchanges wedding rings. The parents would then also give the newly-weds valuable gifts such as gold bracelets, earrings and mostly considered precious items.

The wedding banquet

After the ceremony, families of both the bride and groom join the guests who were not present at the ceremony at a large banquet. This is usually a large gathering, often attended by hundreds. The groom, bride, and their family are once again introduced to the guests and a toast is proposed. Meals are then served at the table.

It is during the reception where the groom, bride, and their parents take rounds on every table to thank and express their gratitude to their guests. Along with each stop at every table, the guests, in turn, give the couple envelopes as a sign of blessing to the newlyweds. These envelopes mostly contain wedding cards or monetary gifts. After the banquet, the bride leaves together with the groom’s party and head to the groom’s house, as it is where she is expected to live. Shortly after, the bride’s party follows to have a look around the groom’s house. Such is done for them to be assured that their daughter will be in good hands and would be comfortable with her new accommodation.

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