If you’ve seen a tent being erected on the pavement in the middle of Hanoi and wondered what on earth is going on, it’s likely that there’s a wedding in the offing.
Let me backtrack a little and give you a whistle-stop guide to marriage in Vietnam. To give you a full understanding of the varied customs and rituals would take a bit more than a few hundred words, so let me start by saying, most brides in Hanoi are not kidnapped by their suitor and taken to live with their prospective in-laws for a trial period (as used to happen in H’mong society). Neither are arranged weddings such common practice anymore: nowadays, young people — in the cities at least — are free to make their own choice of partner, although there may be some influence from the family, particularly if they find that your birth years aren’t compatible.
Courtships and engagements tend to be much quicker in Vietnam than in the West, so as soon as the engagement is announced the planning begins in earnest.
While dates may not be so important in the selection of a compatible partner these days, they’re still given due consideration when it comes to selecting a day for the ceremony. After the engagement, the bride and groom’s families will visit a fortune teller to find out the best time and date for their wedding. Some days are generally considered ‘lucky’ whereas others will be specific to the couple involved.
At the time of the engagement, or a few days before the ceremony, the groom’s family will visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes of betrothal presents. These presents may include areca nuts and betel leaves — traditionally associated with weddings — tea, cake, fruits other delicacies. Traditionally, if the bride breaks off the engagement, all gifts are returned to the groom but if the groom breaks it off, she gets to keep the goodies.
Another important activity that happens before the day itself is the wedding photography. Those well-dressed couples having their photos taken around Hoan Kiem lake, the Metropole Hotel and the Botanic Gardens – to name a few of the popular destinations — aren’t yet married: the photos they’re having taken will be put into an album and framed for display at the wedding itself. There’s no “can I now have the groom’s family” call from the photographer on the wedding day.
A rundown — and my own experiences — of the wedding day itself is coming up.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 8th October, 2014.