Customs and practices
The Vietnamese gastronomic habit tends towards vegetarianism; rice and vegetables are the main course of the meal that may be diversified by aqua products. Boiling is a special way of cooking of the Vietnamese people. Vietnamese people like a synthetic food processing style that involves many materials and ingredients. Today, although meat and fish are the main dishes of the meal, the Vietnamese do not forget pickled egg-plant.
The Vietnamese preferred to wear light, thin, well-ventilated kind of clothing that originated from plants and was suitable for such a tropical country as Vietnam, with grey, indigo and black colours. Men’s clothing changed from loin-cloth with bare upper part of the body to short jackets and Vietnamese traditional trousers (re-designed from Chinese trousers). In the past, women often wore brassieres, skirts and four-piece long dresses that were later modified to the modern ao dai. In general, Vietnamese women adorned themselves subtly and secretively in a society where "virtue is more important than appearance". Old-time clothing also paid attention to kerchiefs, hats and belts.
The old-style Vietnamese house was related to the watery environment (stilt-houses with curved roof). Then came thatch-roofed houses with clay walls, which were built mostly from wood and bamboo. This kind of house did not stand too high to avoid strong winds and storms, and more importantly, the house should face to the South direction to be free from hot and cold weathers. The interior of the house was also not so spacious to leave room for the courtyard, pond, and garden. Also, the Vietnamese thought that "spacious home was no better than sufficient food". Sizeable ancient architectures were often built shrouded and in harmony with natural environment.
The traditional means of transport is waterways. Ship of all types together with the river and the wharf, are familiar in the Vietnamese geological and humanitarian images.
Vietnamese customs of weddings, funerals, holidays and rituals all are attached to village community. Marriages not only reflecte the lovers’ desire but also had to meet the interests of the family lines, the village; thus, the choice for would-be bride or bridegroom was done very carefully, which had to go through many formalities from the plighting ceremony, the official proposal to the bride’s family, the wedding to the marriage tie, the ritual of sharing bridal cup of wine, the newly-weds’ first visit to the bride’s family. Besides, the bride had to pay a fine in order for her to be accepted as a new member of the village. Funeral service is also proceeded very thoroughly to express the grief and see off the deseased into the other world. The family of the deceased does not have to take care of the service by themselves, they are also helped by the neighbors.
Vietnam is the country of festivities which take place all year round, especially in spring when there is little farming work. The major festivities are Lunar New Year, Nguyen tieu (15th day of the first lunar month), Han thuc (3rd day of the third lunar month), Doan ngo (5th day of the fifth lunar month), the Day for Wandering Souls (15th day of the seventh lunar month), and Mid-Autumn Festival. Each region has its own ritual holidays, the most important of which are agricultural rituals (such as the rituals of praying for rain, getting down to the rice field, and new harvest) and handicraft rituals (like the rituals of copper casting, forging, making fire crackers, and boat race). Besides, there are also rituals dedicated to national heroes and religious and cultural services (e.g, Buddhist rituals). Ritual holidays are usually divided into two parts: the service is carried out for blesses and thanksgivings, the holiday is the cultural activities of the community consisting of many folk games and contests.
Here are some of the major customs and festivals:
Tet of Vietnamese
Vietnamese have many festivals in year, of which Lunar New Year Festival (Tet Nguyen dan) is the biggest festival, besides numerous other unique festivals.
Lunar New Year Festival (Tet Nguyen dan)
Tet Nguyen dan is the biggest and most sacred festival. Tet falls on a time when the old year is over and the New Year comes by lunar calendar (from the eve of the last lunar month to the 3rd day of the first lunar month). This is also the time when the cycle of the universe finishes: winter ends and spring, the season of birth of all living things, comes. Tet is an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. It is a time when Vietnamese pay respect to ancestors and grandparents, everyone sends each other best wishes for a new year, stops thinking about unhappy things and says good things about each other.
There are various customs practiced during Tet such as ancestral worshipping, visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, wishing Tet wishes, giving lucky money to young children and old people, wishing longevity to the oldest people, opening rice paddies or opening a shop.
Tet Nguyen tieu (Tet Thuong nguyen)
Tet Nguyen tieu falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Most Vietnamese people believe that the first full moon of the New Year is the most important among all full moons throughout the year. On this day, people often go to pagodas to pray for the best things coming to every family members and their beloved friends.
Tet Thanh minh (Serene sky)
Tet Thanh Minh falls in the third lunar months. This is a good occasion for Vietnamese people to visit and tidy the burial mounds of relatives.
Tet Han Thuc (Cold goods)
Tet Han Thuc takes place on the 3rd day of the third lunar month. People make offerings of banh troi (glutinous rice flour cakes stuffed with plum of brown sugar) and banh chay (glutinous rice flour cakes stuffed with plum of bean paste) to worship ancestors.
Tet Doan Ngo (Killing Insects Day)
Tet Doan Ngo falls on the 5th day of the fifth lunar month. This is the middle year festival for the prevention of disease and ward off evil spirits (the day of changing weather from spring to summer, this is the time easy to get pathogen). On the day of “killing insects”, every one has to get up early, eat fermented sticky and fruits. The worshipping is held at noon, hour of Ngo.
Tet Trung Nguyen
Tet Trung Nguyen takes place on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month in pagodas and Vietnamese families. This day is held to forgive the lost souls, to fulfill filial duty, and to remember the dead. Shoes and dresses made of paper, along with votive paper, are burnt in every household. The worship of Buddha also occurs.
Tet Trung thu (Mid-Autumn Festival)
Tet Trung thu on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month is a joyful occasion for children to enjoy several activities, such as singing, lion dancing, parading with lanterns shaped as moon and stars, and eating banh nuong, banh deo (moon cakes).
Tet Ha Nguyen (New Rice Festival)
Tet Ha Nguyen takes place on the 1st day or the 15th day of the tenth lunar month. In Vietnamese rural areas, this festival is held with large scale, because this is a chance to cook new rice, first to worship ancestors and then reward effort of farmers.
Tet Tao Quan (Kitchen Gods Day)
Tet Tao Quan is on the 23rd day of the last lunar month, the day when Kitchen Gods (Tao Quan) visit to Heaven to deliver an annual report on the household’s activities to the God of Heaven.
After the Kitchen Gods go to Heaven, Vietnamese people normally tidy and decorate their houses to welcome New Year.
Worship of Hung Kings
The worship of Hung Kings originates from Hung Kings dynasty and had strongly developed for a long time before officially honored in Post Le Dynasty (1428 – 1788). The later dynasties and Vietnamese Government always pay attention and encourage people to maintain the worship of Hung Kings.
Every year, on the 10th day of the third lunar month, Hung Kings Ancestral Anniversary day is held at Hung Kings temples nationwide, of which biggest one takes place in Hung Kings Temple Relic Site (Phu Tho Province). In Phu Tho, each village selects a Festival Organizing Board (Ban Khanh Tiet) of 6-9 mature, knowledgeable individuals of good conducts who lead and manage the rituals. The Board appoints suitably expert temple guardians to tend worship sites, instruct devotees and offer incense to Hung Kings year round.
The offerings for the ceremonies (opening, procession, closing) are carefully prepared including sticky rice, fruit, wine, rice, salt, boiled chicken, raw pork (black pig), chung cake and day cake...
The worship ritual consists of incense burning, offerings presenting, testament reading, praying, performance of traditional art such as bronze drum beating, Xoan singing... During the festival, folk games are also organized such as catching a goat while blindfolded, tug of war, flag scoop, boat racing, duck catching in pond...
With unique and distinct values, on 6 December 2012, in Paris (France), UNESCO officially recognized the worship of Hung Kings in Phu Tho Province as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the first belief in Viet Nam recognized as world heritage.
Worship of Ancestor Custom
A very popular belief among Vietnamese is the custom of the ancestor cult. In every household, an ancestor altar is installed in the most solemn location.
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 remains.
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 called conventions.
The purpose of these conventions is the promotion of good customs within populations. All the conventions are different but they are always in accordance with the state laws.
Approximately ten thousands such conventions are kept in the History Museum in Ha Noi 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 areca.
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 Viet Nam. 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 special occasion.
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 wedding.
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 wedding.
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.
Source: www.chinhphu.vn & www.vietnamtourism.com