Vietnamese culture and traditions are often passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth or by witnessing it first hand. The following serves as a guide and variation of ceremonies and procedures is inevitable. It takes a làng yo!
A traditional Vietnamese courtship consists of three steps:
- Lễ Chạm Ngỏ
- Lễ Hỏi or Engagement ceremony
- Lễ Cưới or Wedding ceremony
An unfamiliar tradition is Lễ Chạm Ngỏ, which is an abandoned tradition of parents (rarely includes grandparents) meeting for the first time and discussing the possibility of courtship between their children. Boy’s parents asks permission of Girl’s parents to date, allowing their children get to know each other, and determine if the couple might be compatible for marriage. The asking may come with gifts, but that is at the discretion of Boy’s family. With Girl’s family’s acceptance, brings on the dating. This tradition is reminiscent of days when marriages were dictated by the parents, which wasn’t too many generations ago. There were technicalities that existed should the dating couple not work out; including the return of gifts. In modern times, though, Boy meets Girl, Boy & Girl fall in love, Boy gets down on one knee to propose, Girl gleefully accepts. . .then maybe an informal Le Chạm Ngỏ, but definitely a Lễ Hỏi . . .
…Lễ Hỏi (or Lễ Đám Hỏi, Ăn Hỏi, Lễ Đính Hôn, Tea Ceremony, Vietnamese Engagement) is what the English language translates to the betrothal, which is defined as the public announcement that a couple intend to marry. It is as close to what Westerners or ‘Mericans consider an engagement party celebrating the happy couple. This is a much more common, contemporary practice since Girl would have already accepted the marriage proposal by Boy and are now proceeding with Vietnamese tradition by having their parents, and immediate and extended families meet for the first time. Lễ Hỏi is most recognizable by round, red boxes, covered in gold trimmed red fabric. These are known as mâm quả.
There’s no right or wrong time for a Lễ Hỏi. It’s based on preference—or the parents, frankly. Some instances I have experienced with family and friends include:
- Lễ Hỏi after the proposal, but before setting the wedding date.
- Set the wedding date, then host Lễ Hỏi one year or one to six months in advance of the set date.
- Host Lễ Hỏi on the set wedding day to accommodate out-of-towners, who will have traveled to attend the wedding. Waiting to host Lễ Hỏi on the set date though makes for a long day for both the couple and their families.
Bottom line, the set date and time for this is agreed upon by the engaged couple and their parents.
Get it done, son!
There is a lot of prep by both the Groom’s and Bride’s family. Traditionally, the Bride’s family hosts the Lễ Hỏi because the Groom’s family hosts tiệc cưới—quite opposite of American tradition, huh?
Bride-to-Be and her family’s preparations:
- Plans Lễ Hỏi reception menu
- Cooks or orders the food, buys refreshments and supplies
- Prepares the home by tidying and decorating
- If the Bride is of Catholic faith, her family prepares prayers and hymns ahead. If the Bride is of Buddhist faith, her family may prep an altar with photos of ancestors to honor them.
- Bride-to-Be chooses who her mâm quả receivers are and ensures it matches the number of mâm quả her family has requested of the Groom and his family to present. The receivers are often bridesmaids, sisters, sister-in-laws, female cousins, other close female relatives or girlfriends.
- Bride and / or Mother of the Bride will decide whether Bride will buy, custom make or rent her Áo Dài for the occasion. An Áo Dài for this occasion is often red or pink with the eminent dragon, phoenix or peacock motif. In more modern times, the presence of the motifs have subsided; red Áo Dài’s are still going strong, but now also compete with trending white, gold, silver or of a color belonging to her wedding theme.
- Bride-to-Be determines whether or not Bridesmaids accepting mâm quả will also wear matching Áo Dài’s. And, if so, how it will compliment the design elements of her own Áo Dài. #squadgoals
- Day of: Family goes cray trying to get the house ready and people in place. Bride-to-be is attended to by her Glam Squad (Hair, Make-Up, Wardrobe Stylist—yes, I had one) and stays out of sight. More on that later.
Groom-to-Be and his family’s preparations:
- Together with his parents, the Groom will fulfill the requested the number of mâm quả to present to the Bride’s family. History sidenote: Back in the day, the usage of red lacquered boxes indicated the Groom’s family wealth. Otherwise, hand-held, as-is mâm quả was common.
- The Groom determines whether he will don the Áo Dài or wear a suit and tie. His squad will follow suit. (Ha! Too easy)
- The Groom determines who will bear mâm quả during the procession and are likely to be groomsmen, brothers, brother in-laws, close homies, cousins, and even uncles.
- The Groom and his parents will secure the mâm quả’s by renting them (so is the case if you live in Little Saigon, CA) and also determines and obtains the contents.
- Contents often include all or a combination of the following:
i) Betel Leaves or Lá Trầu (Symbol of marriage in Vietnamese Culture)
ii) Areca fruit or Quả Cau (Symbol of marriage in Vietnamese Culture)
iii) Tea or trà
iv) Sticky Rice or Xôi
v) Assorted Fruit or trái cây
vi) Sweets – specifically Husband-Wife Cake (or Bánh Phu Thê)
vii) Liqs – Cognac most preferred, but wine and champagne have also made appearances
viii) Roasted Pig
x) Anything else requested by Bride’s Family
Groom and his parents may present a generous amount of consumables because at the end of the celebration, the Bride’s family may gift back the contents. This is done so that the Groom and his family could share with extended family and spread word that the couple will marry.
Are you exhausted just thinking about it? Need some time to let it all marinate? Lucky you! A checklist print out is available by clicking here. You’re welcome. Next up, the procession gets a breakdown, shakedown. Click Here.