All over the world, wedding are governed by an endless list of customs and superstitions. TDN Translation examines some of the intriguing tradition associated with Western and Vietnamese nuptials.
Most Vietnamese wedding takes place in the autumn and winter, when the weather is cooler and farmers have less fieldwork. Europeans, meanwhile, tend to marry in the summer. What most Westerners fail to realize is that ancient superstitions influence their wedding dates. According to an old rhyme, couples marrying in June (the most popular month for Western weddings) may look forward to”one long honeymoon”. This belief goes back 2000 years, since the sixth month was named after Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. May, meanwhile, was deemed disastrous for marriage, as the Romans presented offerings to the dead at this time. Many Vietnamese families turn to astrologers to help determine the bride and groom’s compatibility and to choose an auspicious wedding day. For a Vietnamese woman, getting married at the age of 22, 23, 26, or 28 is considered unlucky.
In both Vietnam and the West, getting married traditionally involved two steps: the engagement and the wedding. According to tradition, a Western groom was required to ask the bride’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. An engagement ring was then presented to the girl as a symbol of the groom’s commitment and as a sign to other potential suitors that her affections were “engaged”. While modern romantics might not like the idea, this tradition is rooted in the days when marriages were arranged and a groom’s family paid a dowry or “bride-price” for the girl’s hand.
In Vietnam, the betrothal ceremony, or an hoi, also involves gift-giving. The groom and his family visit the bride’s family bearing round red lacquered boxes full of tea, cakes, fruit, wine and areca leaves and betel nuts. As red is considered a lucky color, the boxes draped in red silk and carried by unmarried girls or boys in red clothes.
While these gifts are symbolic, it was also customary for the boy’s family with valuables like livestock or jewelry. The gifts contained in the lacquered boxes are set on the girl’s family’s ancestral altar, after which the edible gifts are divided into two portions. The smaller portion is returned to the boy’s family to show that they have been too generous and that the bride’s family is not greedy.
In the past, the an hoi could take place as long as two years before the wedding. Today, it is often staged the day before the main event, or le cuoi. On this day, at a bridegroom’s family forms a procession to the bride’s home to collect the bride. They are welcomed by bride’s family members, who are careful not to step beyond their gate so as to not appear overager to marry off their daughter. A banquet typically follows, after which the bride and groom travel to the boy’s family home, where the newlyweds will live.
Todays, both religious and civil marriages in the West are celebrated with a ceremony in which the couple declares their willingness to remain together “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us apart”. Long ago, these sentiments were expressed during the traditional betrothal ceremony. It was only in the 12th century that Europeans began to marry in church.
At both Vietnamese and Western weddings, food is imbued with symbolic meaning. In northern Vietnam, weddings often feature phu the or su se cakes, which made of flour with a green bean, sugar and lotus sedd filling.Always sold in pairs, these soft square cakes are wrapped in green dong leaves that represent eternal live and tied with a red ribbon, a symbol of the destiny that connects a man and a woman. Western brides and grooms typically cut the first slice out of wedding cake together, the feed each other some bites of cake to express their commitment to provide for each other. AN old superstition claims that if an unmarried woman places a piece of wedding cake beneath her pillow she will dream of her future husband.
Old beliefs also govern wedding clothes. In the West, the bride is advised to wear, “Something old, something new, something borrowed something blue and a silver sixpence in your shoe.” Originating in Victorian England, this rhyme expresses much older beliefs.The old item, typically antique lace or jewelry, symbolizes continuity, while the new item signifies future hopes. The borrowed item should come from a happily married friend. Blue is the color of purity, and the coin represents prosperity.
Western tradition deems it unlucky for the bride to make her own wedding dress, and for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony. Nor should the bride wear her entire outfit before the wedding day. This is clearly not the case in Vietnam, where couples typically don their wedding finery and pose for photographs long before the big day. While most Western brides and growing numbers in Vietnam wear white gowns, this tradition dates back to just the 16th century. Before that, girls wore colorful frocks, although according to an old rhyme some colors were to be avoided, such as, “married in green, ashamed to be seen,” or, “married in red, you will wish yourself dead”.
In the past, most people in Vietnam could not afford special wedding clothes. Today, puffy Western-style gowns are increasingly popular although these dresses aren’t necessarily white.
In both Vietnam and the West, guests present the newlyweds with gifts to wish them luck. Vietnamese people tend to give cards with cash, while Westerners typically give household goods. Guests perform certain rituals to grant the newlyweds good luck. Westerners throw rice, flower petals or confetti to ensure fertility, and tie tin cans to the couple’s car to scare away evil spirits jealous of their happiness. It is considered lucky for a Western groom to carry his bride over the threshold when they enter their new home. In Vietnam, a healthy baby boy is often placed on the newlywed’s bed to improve their chances of having a son.
While modern couples may scoff at many of these superstitions, others are happy to hedge their bets. After all, as an old saying goes: “Marriages are made in heaven. But again, so are thunder, lightning, tornadoes and hail…”.