A very popular
belief among Vietnamese is the custom of the
ancestor cult. In every household, an
ancestor altar is installed in the most
Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even
if dead for many generations, still rests along with
their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons
still have spiritual communion; in everyday life, people
must not forget that what they enjoy and how they feel
is the same for their dead relatives.
On the last day of every lunar year, an announcing cult,
cung tien thuong, is performed to invite the dead
forefathers to return home to celebrate Tet holidays
with their families. During the last days before Tet,
all family members visit their ancestors’ graves; they
clean and decorate the graves, in the same manner that
the livings clean and decorate their houses to welcome
the New Year.
On the anniversary of an ancestor’s death, descendants
and relatives unite and prepare a feast to worship the
dead people and to ask for health and happiness for
themselves. From generation to generation, ancestor
worshipping customs have been religiously preserved.
There are some small variations between those customs
among the many Vietnamese ethnic groups, but the common
theme of fidelity and gratitude towards the ancestors
Villages – Guilds
The Vietnamese culture has always evolved on the basis
of the wet rice civilization. Thus, the lifestyle of the
Vietnamese population is closely related to its village
and native lands.
In Vietnamese society, people gather together to form
villages in rural areas, and guilds in urban areas.
Villages and guilds have been forming since the dawn of
the nation. These organizations have gradually developed
for the population to be more stable and closer
together. Each village and guild has its own regulations
The purpose of these conventions is the promotion of
good customs within the populations. All the conventions
are different but they are always in accordance with the
Approximately ten thousands such conventions are kept in
the History Museumin Hanoi and in other museums
throughout the country.
Customs of Chewing Betel and Areca Nuts and smoking
thuoc lao According to legends, chewing quid of betel
and areca has been a custom since the Hung Vuong period
and is connected to the antique legend of betel and
A quid of betel, also called trau, is composed of four
elements: an areca leaf (sweet taste), betel bark (hot
taste), a chay root (bitter taste), and hydrated lime
(pungent taste). The custom of chewing betel nut is
unique to Vietnam. Old health books claim that "chewing
betel and areca nut makes the mouth fragrant, decreases
bad tempers, and makes digesting food easy". A quid of
betel makes people become closer and more openhearted.
At any wedding ceremony, there must be a dish of betel
and areca nut, which people can share as they enjoy the
During festivals or Tet Holidays, betel and areca nut is
used for inviting visitors and making acquaintances.
Sharing a quid of betel with an old friend is like
expressing gratitude for the relationship. A quid of
betel and areca nut makes people feel warm on cold
winters days, and during funerals it relieves sadness.
Betel and areca nuts are also used in offerings. When
Vietnamese people worship their ancestors, betel and
areca nut must be present at the altar. Nowadays, the
custom of chewing betel remains popular in some
Vietnamese villages and among the old.
Let’s not forget to mention thuoc lao or strong tobacco.
For women, betel can initiate various feminine
conversation, but for men, thuoc lao is related to their
joyfulness as well as the sadness in their lives.
Peasants always carry their dieu cay (pipe for smoking
while ploughing the rice fields).
Getting married is an important event in a Vietnamese’s
life. The procedure of the ancient wedding ceremony was
very complicated. Current wedding ceremony procedures
include the following steps: the search for a husband or
wife, the proposal, the registration, and finally the
Depending on habits of specific ethnic groups, marriage
includes various steps and related procedures, but
generally there are two main ceremonies:
Le an hoi (betrothal ceremony): Some time before the
wedding, the groom and his family visit the bride and
her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal
presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel
leaves, tea, cake, fruits, wines and other delicacies
covered with red cloth and carried by unmarried girls or
boys. Both families agree to pick a good day for
Le cuoi (wedding ceremony): Guests would be invited to
come to join a party and celebrate the couple’s
happiness. The couple should pray before the altar
asking their ancestors for permission for their
marriage, then to express their gratitude to both
groom’s and bride’s parents for raising and protecting
them. Guests will share their joy at a party later.
“The sense of the dead is that of the final, ” says a
Vietnamese proverb, meaning that funeral ceremonies must
be solemnly organized.
Formerly funeral ceremonies went as following: the body
was washed and dressed; then a le ngam ham, or
chopstick, was laid between the teeth and a pinch of
rice and three coins were dropped in the mouth. Then the
body was put on a grass mat laid on the ground according
to the saying “being born from the earth, one must
return back to the earth.” The dead body was enveloped
with white cloth, le kham liem, and put into the coffin,
le nhap quan. Finally, the funeral ceremony, le thanh
phuc, was officially performed.
The deceased person’s sons, daughters, and
daughters-in-law had to wear coarse gauze turbans and
tunics, and hats made of straw or of dry banana fiber.
The deceased person’s grandchildren and relatives also
had to wear mourning turbans. During the days when the
dead were still laid out at home, the mourning went on
with worshipping meals and mourning music. Relatives,
neighbours, and friends came to offer their condolences.
The date and time for the funeral procession, le dua
tang, must be carefully selected. Relatives, friends,
and descendants take part in the funeral procession to
accompany the dead along the way to the burial ground.
Votive papers were dropped along the way. At the grave
site, the coffin is buried and covered. After three days
of mourning, the family visits the tomb again, le mo cua
ma or worship the opening the grave; after 49 days, le
chung that, the family stops bringing rice for the dead
to the altar. And finally, after 100 days, the family
celebrates tot khoc, or the end of the tears. After one
year is the ceremony of the first anniversary of the
relative’s death and after two years is the ceremony of
the end of mourning.
Nowadays, mourning ceremonies follow new rituals which
are simplified; they consist of covering and putting the
dead body into the coffin, the funeral procession, the
burial of the coffin into the grave, and the visits to
the tomb. The deceased person’s family members wear a
white turban or a black mourning band.
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