13 Traditions Customarily Seen in Vietnamese Weddings
For guests attending Vietnamese weddings or for couples looking to honor their heritage by hosting traditional nuptials, there are some customs and practices generally seen within Vietnamese celebrations to be aware of. From customary colors and fashion choices to rituals involving tea, candles and honoring elders, we're taking a look at the Vietnamese wedding traditions you can expect to see. To better understand the customs often included in traditional Vietnamese weddings, we tapped a few wedding pros to offer their expert insight. Lizzy Liz Chan, wedding planner and owner of SoCal-based Lizzy Liz Weddings & Events, Tuan Bui, wedding photographer and owner of Chicago-based Tuan B & Co. and Phuong Nguyen, floral designer and owner of Houston-based Mibellarosa Floral Artistry, share advice surrounding the history and details of the most common Vietnamese wedding customs.
Off the bat it should be noted, however, that while many of these traditions describe the marriage of a bride and groom, LGBTQ+ couples celebrating a "Vietnamese wedding might work much the same way, though the partners may modify the traditions to better suit," explains Bui. While, "historically, Vietnamese weddings (đám cưới) have been heterosexual," weddings are meant to be uniquely your own, celebrating the details that make your partnership yours while adapting traditions and custom as you and your partner see it.
In This Story:
1. Auspicious Wedding Date
Selecting a wedding date is one of the first steps in planning a wedding. Within Vietnamese weddings, it is especially important for couples to choose a wedding date that is meaningful and auspicious. Chan explains that "parents typically take the couple to a temple to find an auspicious date and time. Factors such as birthday, time, Chinese zodiac sign and element," all weigh into the decision making process for selecting an ideal auspicious wedding date.
2. Engagement Photos
"Most Vietnamese couples take engagement photos in their actual wedding attire," says Chan. While in many Western weddings it's commonplace to have a first look where to-be-weds see each other in their wedding attire for the first time, that's less common within Vietnamese weddings. "It's typical that the groom has seen the bride in her wedding dress prior to their wedding day and also goes shopping with her," says Chan of traditional Vietnamese engagement photos.
3. Engagement Ceremony
Historically, a formal engagement ceremony known as Đám Hỏi, with elements that are very similar to a traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony, would take place as a first step in the engagement and wedding planning process. "The Đám Hỏi is the process of the groom and groom's side asking the bride's family for her hand and marriage. It is also an introduction of family members of both sides and a way of honoring their family and ancestors," explains Chan.
Nguyen goes on to share that, "similar to the Western tradition of an engagement and engagement party, the Đám Hỏi is the ceremony during which the groom officially asks for the bride's hand in marriage. Traditionally, the groom and his family will arrive at the bride's family home to present gifts and dowry and speak to a representative of the bride's family before they grant permission to the groom and hand off their daughter for marriage. Finally, the bride's family will bring out the bride to join the couple together. After the official proposal ends with cheers and merriment, the families have lunch to celebrate the union together. The ceremony is significant in Vietnamese culture, as marriage is not only viewed as a union of two people, but also the union of two families." Nguyen also explains that historically there was an additional pre-engagement step known as Dạm Ngõ that would take place. "Prior to the Đám Hỏi is the Dạm Ngõ (also known as the Đám Nói), during which the parents of the bride and groom come together to first discuss a pending engagement for the couple after the couple has expressed their intent for marriage. This is the first true official engagement for the families."
During the Đám Hỏi, Chan advises that "the groom's side lines up with offerings of food and alcohol. The groom's family will fill up 'mam qua,' which are red tins that are filled with gifts, known as a dowry in the old days. You will find bottles of the most expensive Cognac, stick rice, luxury teas, desserts, fruits and items that symbolize prosperity, wealth and luck. A roasted pig is also part of the offering. The bride's family guards the door to see what the groom has to offer the bride's family. Sometimes red envelopes filled with cash are offered first before presenting the mam qua red tins. Sometimes the bride's family will challenge the groom to show that he has the strength to take care of his future wife. They may challenge him to push-ups, jumping jacks and other activities to show that he is strong."
"Once the bride's family accepts the gifts and the groom passes these challenges, the groom's side is welcomed into the home," explains Chan. "The bride's parents will escort the bride to finally see her partner. This is where the groom will present her bouquet to her. This is also where both sides will introduce themselves with family introductions, a welcome speech and prayer. Family members are assigned to light candles and incense to honor their ancestors and serve tea to their parents, grandparents and elders. The groom's parents will shower the bride in jewelry and red envelopes. After parents and grandparents are served tea, then immediately the family lines up to receive a tea offering from the couple and to give the couple red envelopes and jewelry. Traditionally, to make it official, the groom escorts the bride back to the groom's house, followed by the bride's side. They all meet at the groom's house for a secondary tea ceremony and followed by lunch hosted by the groom's side," notes Chan of the Đám Hỏi engagement ceremony, which actually carries a striking resemblance to the flow of a traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony.
In regard to structure, the engagement ceremony or Đám Hỏi is "almost step-by-step a mirror of the wedding," explains Bui. "It involves the same procession, the same reception, the same gift-giving, the same speechifying and presentation of the bride, and the same tea ceremony. Doing a traditional đám hỏi is not too common these days but back in antiquity, the đám hỏi was sometimes the event where the groom met the bride for the first time, so you can imagine that this ceremony, when it exists today, is quite amended to be more of an engagement party that, together with the đám cưới, bookends the engagement period of the bride and groom."
4. Wedding Processional
Overall, a traditional Vietnamese wedding looks very similar to Đám Hỏi, the traditional Vietnamese engagement ceremony and engagement party. Bui explains that "a Vietnamese wedding day starts with the groom's family and friends forming a procession line, traditionally at the groom's house, and parading to the bride's house. Of course, this is remarkably impractical most of the time, so usually the groom's side forms a procession a little bit down the block from the bride's house. This procession will include the groom's close family and friends, and is headed by a couple, usually the parents of the groom or an elder couple of the clan. The groom himself will be at the end of the procession, often carrying a bouquet. Each person in line, save for the head couple and groom, will carry fabric-covered trays bearing gifts, usually involving components of a feast; fruit, candy, moon cakes (bánh trung thu), pandan rice cakes with mung bean (bánh xu xê), other pandan rice cakes with mung bean (bánh cốm), colorful mounds of sticky rice (xôi), wine (though Vietnamese people have a fondness for Cognac, so bottles of Remy Martin and Hennessey are acceptable) and if you're lucky, a whole roast suckling pig (heo quay)!"
Much like with the Đám Hỏi, Bui explains that "the groom's procession will parade up to the door of the bride's house, where an equivalent couple from the bride's family will greet them. The groom's designated head couple will ask for permission to enter, and the bride's head couple will grant it and the whole parade will troop into the bride's house, to be met by the bride's family, except for the bride herself, who will be hidden in a different room. The bride's family will accept the gifts, taking the trays, and someone from the bride's side (usually the bride's dad) will give a speech welcoming the groom's family. Once this is done, the bride will be escorted into the room to applause, and the groom may present the bride with her bouquet."
5. Prayer at the Altar
At this point in the wedding day, it's time for the couple to pray at the altar that's been set up in the ceremony space. Bui explains that "first the parents of the groom, then the parents of the bride, then the bride and groom themselves pray together. Vietnamese tradition doesn't neatly fall into any of the world's major religions, so the prayers are directed to the ancestors of the couple and involve an altar with lit candles and small offerings of food, sometimes as well as incense sticks that the penitents will clasp in their hands until their silent prayers are done, at which point after an obeisance, they will place the stick of incense in a small censer.
At this point, the couple may exchange jewelry, placing wedding rings on each other's fingers, and if there was a gift of jewelry in the procession earlier, this will be ceremoniously put on the bride. Monetary gifts may be given to the couple, often in small envelopes (lì xì)."
6. Important Colors and Attire
"There is one traditional Vietnamese outfit, the áo dài, which, for the wedding, is worn by the bride and the groom also, if he is feeling extremely Vietnamese," explains Bui of traditional Vietnamese wedding fashion. "The bride wears a red one and the groom wears a blue one, complete with a matching tiered headpiece, called a khăn vấn, this is sort of an open-top turban made of concentric layers of fabric. Family of the couple and wedding guests may also opt to wear an áo dài."
Chan explains that couples typically get their áo dài custom made and may fill the design with meaningful references. "For example, if the groom was born in the year of the dragon, the bride may incorporate fabric with a dragon design into her attire." The color choices for áo dài are also especially important. "The combination of red and gold or all white is reserved only for the couple on the day of the wedding. Guests are encouraged to wear brightly colored clothes to signify happiness for the couple," advises Nguyen. Nguyen goes on to explain that there's a misconception that since Vietnamese couples often choose to wear traditional attire, there isn't space for personalization within their wedding-day outfits. "Even with all the customs and tradition, Vietnamese brides are still able to bring their own twist to their weddings. Brides typically have three outfit changes throughout the day. Along with the Western wedding dress, brides also wear the Áo Dài, the traditional Vietnamese dress. The enhanced bridal version (or Áo Dài Cưới) has been modernized with long trains or capes and can be paired with khăn đống, a traditional circular Vietnamese headdress, that coils around the head that resembles a halo and brings a more regal feel to the attire."
As for guests, it is important to keep in mind the colors that are reserved for the to-be-weds and plan a wedding guest outfit accordingly. "Wedding guests should not wear black because that's what you wear to a funeral, no purple florals as they represent sadness and no white florals as they represent death and funerals," advises Chan. Additionally, she encourages wedding guests attending Vietnamese wedding celebrations to "always wear something formal, do not wear jeans, khakis or casual attire to a Vietnamese wedding. If you come looking casual or sloppy, it's disrespectful to the couple. If you're a guest, you can rent an áo dài! It would surely impress the to-be-weds."
7. Meaningful Decor
When it comes to wedding decorations, the home where the wedding is taking place is usually "decorated with a traditional altar with red and gold, double happiness symbols, traditional candles and incense," says Chan.
8. Tea Service and Candle Lighting Ceremony
During a traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony, it is customary to include a tea ceremony and candle ritual." The Rước Dâu, which leads up to the tea ceremony (or Vu Quy), takes place on the morning of the wedding day when the groom and groomsmen come to the bride's home and officially takes her from the family. The groom and groomsmen will line up in a procession to offer more gifts to the bride and family. This could include trays of fruit, liquor, pastries, and jewelry underneath red embroidered silk linen. While traditionally the groom will offer gold necklaces and bracelets, more modern couples now offer diamond jewelry instead. After initial greetings, the bride will be brought out to join the groom to commence the tea and candle ceremony," explains Nguyen. "The tea ceremony (or Vu Quy) is the ceremony where the couple presents tea to their parents and grandparents. By drinking the tea, the elders signify the acceptance of the couple's marriage and offer advice for a long-lasting, healthy marriage. Incense is then offered to the ancestors as a way to introduce the groom to the family ancestors. Finally, the union is bonded by the candle lighting custom, where the couple light a dragon and phoenix candle. Afterward, the bride's family will offer gifts to the couple. Traditionally, they are red envelopes of money, other congratulatory gifts and words of wisdom. The Thành Hôn follows the Vu Quy, but it takes place at the groom's family home. The bride will greet all the family members. The couple will offer tea and be presented with gifts again, and then lunch is served."
Chan elaborates by explaining that some modern couples forgo tea in favor of alcohol. "Each family is different, the teapot can be filled with tea or it may be filled with alcohol. So be careful, you can be taking a shot of alcohol or enjoying a sip of hot tea. This is the part of the wedding where you light incense and candles, bow and pray to your ancestors."
9. Honoring Elders
Over the course of a Vietnamese wedding day, the couple will honor their elders and ancestors in a variety of meaningful ways. Bui explains that "after the short wedding ceremony, there is an opportunity for more speeches and bonhomie, and then the couple serves hot tea to their elders; each set of parents, and grandparents if they are there, as well as aunts and uncles. Depending on the size of this family, this may take some time, but it demonstrates respect and togetherness."
Nguyen elaborates, sharing that "Vietnamese couples honor their elders by involving them in each step of the wedding process leading up to the reception. The traditions set in place value each parent's opinion and pay respect to the deceased ancestors. In addition, the procession of gifts to the bride's family (or the mâm quả), is another way to pay respect to the bride's family and thank them for raising the bride to the individual she is today."
10. Cognac and Lots of Food
Food is a big part of Vietnamese wedding celebrations as is alcohol, notably cognac. Chan encourages all to-be-weds to "order a lot of Cognac for the reception!" She goes on to explain that Vietnamese wedding receptions involve "a lot of food during the wedding reception. It's served family-style and may have a minimum of eight courses." Bui concurs, noting that "after the tea ceremony, it is time to feast! All that good food brought in by the groom's side, and whatever feast has been prepared by the bride's side, is set upon by one and all."
Of Vietnamese wedding reception dinners, Nguyen explains that "while the morning is filled with respectable customs, the receptions are usually parties to remember! A bottle of Cognac is a staple part of the tablescape for a Vietnamese wedding, so the guests can immediately get the party started without even having to hit the bar. During dinner service, the bride and groom greet each table to thank them for coming in a custom called chào bàn, which literally translates to a greeting table. While tables with elders are simply met with words of wisdom and cheers, tables with younger guests would tend to play short drinking games with the couples. Needless to say, after chào bàn, the couple or groom, who might have to take shots for his bride, will be ready to hit the dance floor."
11. Thoughtful Wedding Gifts
"Vietnamese wedding guests are usually expected to give the cost of their meal in envelopes," explains Nguyen. "When the couple is invited to the guests' wedding in the future, they are expected to do the same in return. This alleviates financial stress on the newlywed couple, who typically pay for the wedding themselves, and allows for a more lively atmosphere with higher attendance." Chan agrees, explaining that Vietnamese couples don't have wedding registries and "all gifts are monetary gifts."
12. No Officiant
Some people may be surprised to learn that there isn't a specific moment in Vietnamese ceremonies where an officiant pronounces the couple married. "Interestingly, compared to a western ceremony, there isn't a single moment in time in which the couple crosses over from being 'unmarried' to being 'married' and there isn't any officiant in charge of the proceedings, so each side of the family has to know what to do next," explains Bui. "Furthermore, what I've seen with less traditional Vietnamese weddings in America is that often the exchange of rings does not happen during the ceremony at all—the Vietnamese portion of the wedding happens at the beginning of the day and then a more modern American ceremony takes place in the afternoon or evening with a processional, officiant, exchange of vows and rings, and recessional."
13. Lion Dancers
Many Vietnamese wedding receptions will showcase lion dancers. Chan explains that a lion dancer performance "is to bless the couple for a long and happy marriage.