What is a Vietnamese Wedding Like?
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
So you've been invited to a modern Vietnamese wedding, what should you expect? Or maybe you're just curious? Either way - GREAT! In the last four years, I've had the opportunity as a wedding photographer to join in a variety of diverse wedding traditions. I've learned about Mormon weddings, African American wedding traditions, Vietnamese American, Jewish, Native American, and how many other religions, and cultures celebrate. To share what I've learned, and to celebrate diversity, I've invited several guest bloggers to write about their specific traditions. Today I have asked my friend, colleague, Dao Than, to share her families Vietnamese Traditions with us:
What is the Vietnamese Tea Ceremony Like?
Incorporating Vietnamese Traditions into your Modern Wedding
Tradition plays a significant role in Vietnamese culture—weddings are no exception! In fact, for many Vietnamese Americans, the tradition of hosting an engagement ceremony called a Đám Hỏi happens immediately after the proposal. Enjoy the bliss while it lasts, because planning the Đám Hỏi is like planning another wedding on top of already planning a wedding.
Historically, many marriages in Vietnam were arranged, so the first step involved a negotiation between the parents over wedding details such as the date and dowry. Opposite from the conventional concept of a dowry, it is the bride's family that requests specific items in exchange for their daughter's hand in marriage in Vietnamese culture. Although the intent is very outdated, a loosely interpreted form of this meeting still occurs today. For instance, shortly after their proposal, my sister and her fiancé arranged an informal dinner for our families. My sister jokingly requested a dog, but the families decided on things that are usually presented during the engagement.
Symbolic Gifts at a Modern Vietnamese Wedding
These gifts are presented on the day of the ceremony in boxes called mâm quả. Traditionally, these boxes are usually lacquered red and contain a particular item: wine or alcohol, tea, fruit, cake, jewelry, and betel leaves and areca nuts (the importance of these two items can be read here). And you cannot forget the roasted pig! Yes, an entire roasted pig!
Many brides are finding innovative ways to modernize the box mâm quả. For example, my sister decided to showcase the gifts by using clear acrylic boxes.
Áo Dài Attire at a Vietnamese Wedding and Tea Ceremony
My favorite thing about Vietnamese culture and one of the most important things to plan is your áo dài. Our traditional garment, the áo dài, translates as long shirt—it is literally a long shirt with pants. It sounds simple, but it can be very intricate depending on the color, print, embellishments, embroidery, neckline, sleeve length, and more. Plus, áo dàis are usually custom made to ensure a perfect fit and can take months to sew.
The history of áo dài is pretty interesting, and no one knows exactly when it began. The tradition is traced to the 17th century, but the version we know today is from the 19th century. Western fashion has also influenced the styles and of the áo dài, but the modern versions have remained fairly conservative. The áo dài customized for both men and women. It remains a symbol of beauty today in Vietnam (and we understand why!).
My sister mainly wanted to blend the traditional cut of an Áo Dài with a modern print. Her fiancé had one made for himself too.
(Note from Cassandra: In college, I emceed the Chinese New Year festivity and I had the opportunity to wear the áo dài in celebration. This outfit is traditionally custom-fitted for the individual wearing it, so although mine was not tailored it was still very form-fitting and comfortable! It also has the elegance of a dress, but since you're wearing pants you don't feel restricted.)
Have you seen Vietnamese brides and grooms wearing the áo dài in some photos and the traditional white dress and suit in others? That's because some families have both the tea ceremony and traditional wedding. They generally do the tea ceremony the day prior and the wedding the following day. However, in Vietnamese culture, the Tea Ceremony is all that's necessary!
The Đám Hỏi and Tea Ceremony
Customarily, the ceremony starts with a procession to the bride's house from the groom's house. This cannot happen with modern-day restrictions - I mean, can you imagine a hoard of people marching down the highway carrying a whole roasted pig? Therefore, the groom's side of the family usually gathers outside of the bride's house until the ceremony begins with a very short "procession" onto the driveway. Once on the driveway, the gifts are exchanged from members of the groom's family to receiving members of the bride's family. They are then brought into the house, where they are placed on an altar. The altar is usually decorated with religious artifacts, pictures of deceased family members, candles and incense, and the items for the tea ceremony.
Once everyone is settled inside, a representative from each side of the family introduces the family members and their relation to the bride or groom. The groom then makes a speech about the purpose of today's gathering - asking for the bride's hand in marriage - and reveals each gift. To signify the acceptance of the marriage, the bride is then brought downstairs by her mother. The bride is waiting upstairs the entire time this is happening. Once she makes her appearance, the tea ceremony begins. The tea ceremony itself is quite simple: the bride and groom pour tea for their parents and elders to drink. However, it is imperative because it signifies the agreement of the unification of the two families. For deceased elders, incense is lighted instead. The unification is then celebrated with some sort of a banquet or party!
It's not over yet . . . on the day of the actual wedding, this entire ceremony is repeated!
Thank you for teaching us about Vietnamese engagement and wedding traditions, Dao! I photographed Dao's sister's engagement party in the summer of 2019. Dao and Ha Mi educated me on the Đám Hỏi and Tea Ceremony beforehand - thankfully because most of everything was in said in Vietnamese, so I had a good idea of what was going on! My favorite portion of the tea ceremony was the alter - it's lined with photos of past relatives, incense, the beautiful gifts, the tea, and of course, the pig! It was extraordinary to get to witness the tea ceremony, and also it was an honor to get to stay and have lunch with the combined families afterward. If you're ever invited to a Vietnamese tea ceremony or wedding, go!
Keep in mind that Vietnamese traditions change and you'll find different variations depending on the family and location. However, this should give you an informed idea of what to expect when attending a Vietnamese tea ceremony.
Check out all of the photos from this Vietnamese Tea Ceremony.
Tell us what you think of the Vietnamese wedding traditions below or if your family has other Vietnamese wedding traditions! We'd love to hear.
Tips for attending a modern Vietnamese Wedding from me:
If you're confused about who to stand with and you're not from either family, stay in the house with the bride's family during the procession.
I would opt for wearing something bright and colorful if you don't have the Áo Dài Attire, that way you feel like you match the vibe of the party. Colorful dresses are appropriate for women and dress pants and blazers are a good choice for men.
Make the assumption that you're only an English speaker you'll miss most if not all of the tea ceremony since it's traditionally in Vietnamese. You will be able to assume what's going on during most of the ceremony, but even Ha Mi and Dao confessed that a few times they weren't sure what was going on.
Try all of the food, but don't let them trick you into drinking the hard liquor! Well, unless you think you're prepped for it.
Are you planning a wedding? Check our free wedding resources! Better yet, are you looking for a Colorado Engagement Photographer or Colorado Wedding Photographer? You've come to the right place, meet Cassandra Vagher. Cassandra specializes in creating bold and vibrant photography.
Want to learn about other wedding traditions? Check out our blog on what is a Mormon wedding is like. Want to contribute? Great! Contact Cassandra here.