I’ve been living in Vietnam for almost ten years now and yet its rich culture and tradition still never fail to fascinate me. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of being invited to more than one traditional Vietnamese wedding, but this one was something close to my heart.
When Hung walked into the English Center Linh worked for, she thought it was just another day on the job. Little did she know she was about to meet the love of her life.
She answered his endless questions, and guided him through the registration process. But, then, when she asked for the payment, Hung demanded a receipt first. Linh tried to patiently explain what any 10-year-old knows: that he should pay first before being given a receipt. A staring contest ensued and, as they say, the rest is history.
Hung was as attentive a suitor as he was a student. However, the quintessential conservative, Linh told him that only with her mother’s blessing would she agree to go out on a date with him. So, Hung showered Linh’s mom with attention and, eventually, her maternal protectiveness proved no match to his persistence and charm.
Three months later, Linh and Hung were officially a couple and, even as early as then, began making plans of tying the knot. Because, after all, when you know, you know.
The engagement photoshoot
Vietnamese couples are set to have more than one pre-wedding photoshoot, including one where they put on a traditional Vietnamese attire and another one where the bride dresses up in white bridal gown and the groom suits up.
The Traditional Vietnamese Wedding
Attending a traditional Vietnamese wedding, you’ll find that it’s very different from what we, Filipinos, are used to. For one thing, the ceremonies last for days. For another, a fortune teller practically runs the show.
On the first day, the groom’s family troops into the bride’s house bearing gifts. The purpose of this first ritual is to formally ask for the lady’s hand and for the two households to officially meet for the first time. With only the immediate family in attendance, this is the most intimate gathering of the week and also the most casual.
The next day was the formal announcement of the engagement to relatives and close friends. The bride, resplendent in red Áo dài (the Vietnamese traditional garment and lucky color), awaits her groom in her childhood home. Ladies-in-waiting also clad in ao dai of more muted colors flank her. These ladies, like our bridesmaids, are usually the bride’s friends or cousins and to be selected as one of them is a deep honor.
Meanwhile, the groom leads a parade through the neighborhood. With him are some of his close friends, heavily laden with more lavish gifts, including fruits, betel, tobacco, wine and a bride cake, each one symbolizing a wish for a happy marriage – wealth, good health, fertility, etc.
The parade ends on the bride’s doorstep where her parents and ladies-in-waiting ceremoniously receive the presents before allowing the groom’s party to step into the house. What follows is a night of revelry as two sets of families celebrate the union of their households.
The next day is the actual wedding ceremony which traditionally happens in the groom’s hometown and behind closed doors with only the immediate family of the bride and groom as witnesses. In Linh’s case, she had to travel 1.5 hours from Ha Noi City to another province, Bac Giang. This was not an easy feat considering her practically sleepless night. But, she still miraculously managed to be the perfect picture of the glowing, blushing bride for the ceremony officiated by a village elder. Exchange of vows and rings were done in front of the family altar.
Since actually very few witness the couple officially getting bonded, the reception party which happens a few days later is the highlight of the week-long festivities. Here, traditions are set aside and there are several concessions to more familiar Western customs, including, the white gown, cake-slicing and wine tasting. Wedding photos taken several weeks before are beamed on a projector.
The Vietnamese are a deeply superstitious group. While a wedding planner would be the first person a Filipino bride calls right after deciding to get hitched, Vietnamese families run to a fortune teller who would decide every detail of the wedding – from the date to the color scheme. Many a wedding have been cancelled when the birth years of the couple turned out to be incompatible, according to the fortune teller.
Luckily, in Linh’s case, no such impediment was declared, but she was told to get married this year (2018) or wait 2 more years before being lucky again. The two-month deadline to make everything ready by December added to the pre-wedding jitters, but the determined couple pulled it off.
Linh and Hung’s beautiful traditional Vietnamese wedding also had to follow a tight schedule. For example, on the second day, the parade of gifts had to be perfectly timed to reach Linh’s door at exactly 3pm, the most fortuitous time based on the fortune teller’s analysis of the couple’s ages . Any deviation from the recommended schedule could have spelled bad luck to the newlyweds.
Love makes the world go round
Witnessing Hung and Linh’s nuptials first-hand was an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for cultural immersion. But, it’s clear that, amidst the differences, universal themes of traditions, family and love drive weddings anywhere in the world.