A wedding is an once-in-a-lifetime occasion… Well hopefully, but then again you do not know what will happen in this modern time. It is a memorable moment and everyone, especially the bride, wants everything to go as smoothly and perfectly as possible.
Before a wedding can take place, a proposal has to be made ahead of time. Just like the wedding, an engagement is important and in some places even more so. This is a little heads up to all the guys so make it thoughtful (it does not have to be extravagant). In some regions of Vietnam, like in the rural areas, it holds very true that the engagement is considered more important than the wedding. However, for people living in the city are depends on the family due to Western influence.
An Engagement to Remember
Vietnamese engagements tend to be very traditional with a lot of customs that tag along. You will notice that the engagement process will have some similarities in the next article when the groom and his family come to retrieve the bride after the wedding ceremony takes place. The engagement in Vietnam is different than in Western countries. It does not end after the guy proposes to the girl but continues until both families agree and officially celebrate the couple.
The process continues. Although, the guy does not have to ask the girl’s family for approval before he pops the question to her, both families still have to get together to plan the engagement party when she agrees. There are families out there where is recommended the groom ask the family first.
This just shows that you respect the family and want their approval. As a result, the girl’s family will like you and think more of you. Also, your future fiancée will think it is a little cute and sweet that you went to all the trouble of going through her family.
Even though she has accepted your proposal, it is not official yet. Next, both families have to pick a date for the engagement party. Usually in the past, the date is based on the couple’s birth dates and its hours (for Feng Shui purpose) but today it is mostly dependent on whenever is convenient. Once the date has been set, each side of the family will pick a representative for the engagement ceremony.
Please stand up…
The representative can be anyone that knows the family or a person in the family. When it comes to choosing a representative, that person needs to know the family, have good public speaking skills and a good reputation. This step should not bring you any difficulty.
A few days or week prior to the engagement, the fiancé’s family has to get all the gifts for the fiancée’s family ready. These gifts consist of jewelry, husband-and-wife cakes, betel leaves, areca nuts, wine, fruit, cake, tea, and a huge roasted pork (the whole animal). All of the gifts will be wrapped in red paper on a plate/tray. During this time, the fiancé will make sure the rings are size correctly.
On the fiancée’s side, all she and her family have to do is get ready for the ceremony such as making sure the house is clean, decorating the place to make it look pretty (usually the decoration will be all in the color red, which stands for good luck/fortune), and the ancestors’ altar all set up with fruits, tea, and incense sticks. In our culture, the woman tends to have less responsibility in the wedding process compared to the West.
Before hand, the fiancée will have gotten all her traditional clothes called Ao Dai, which are always custom made (the fiancé will do the same). Both of the fiancé and fiancée’s outfits usually will be red or pink (this applies to the fiancée more).
Should I stay or should I go?
So the actual day has arrived and you no longer can back out. You probably are thinking, “What? I can’t back out? Yes, I can because it’s not the actual wedding.” Let’s back track for a second. One of the reasons why in some regions the engagement is important is because it’s to make sure no party will cancel the wedding once the couple is engaged. This applies more to the old days when marriages were arranged and one side would fear the other would back out.
By making everything really big and extravagant for the engagement ceremony it makes it difficult for either family to back out because if they do, the whole family will lose face. The family’s reputation will be damaged not to mention the honor of keeping one’s word is gone, and then no one will trust you or your family. The consequences are deadly but it is to prevent runaways before the actual wedding. Julia Roberts (Runaway Bride) will not do very good in our country (hehe).
On the engagement day, the fiancé’s family will come to the fiancée’s house with the prepared gifts. During the gift ceremony, all the guys on the fiancé’s family will line up with a tray of gifts while on the fiancée’s side the girls will also form a line to receive the gifts. Once the exchange has taken place, everyone goes inside the house.
Next, the fiancé’s representative will ask for the fiancée’s hand in marriage on behalf of family. Then, the fiancée’s representative will accept the offer and now the couple will pray in front of the ancestors’ altar for approval and blessing.
After all this is done, the rings are exchanged and the couple is officially engaged. At this time, the fiancé’s family representative will introduce the members on his side by their role, and likewise on the fiancée’s. This moment is when speeches about the couple will be exchanged by the representatives and family members when it is their turn to be introduce. Sometimes the speeches can be a blessing of happiness and congratulations or welcoming to the family since from this point on, the fiancé and fiancée can call their in-laws mom, dad, sister, brother, etc.
Before the ceremony ends, the fiancée’s side has to return a portion of the gifts that the fiancé will bring back to his family. The gift ceremony will be the same at the beginning. Two lines of guy and girls line up, but this time the girls will hand back the trays and gifts.
You may ask why we have this tradition. I would say we just follow blindly. Because this tradition has passed down from generation to generation and we just follow what the ancestors have taught.
When the ceremony is officially over then the actual party can start. Well, not until after everyone has gotten their picture taken with the happy couple. Then, the fiancée’s family can start to unwrap the gifts and hand out food.
If you are getting engaged or thinking about it, I would like to be the first one to congratulate you.
This article is written by lan nguyen from Vacation to Vietnam