A brief introduction about Vietnamese culture
Vietnamese people live in their own villages and family atmosphere. The old trees, the entrance gates, the bamboo fences, the wells, the temples and the boat stations are the sample for a traditional villages. There are two types of villages in Vietnam. Long time ago, most Vietnamese people lived in the north and lived in the “close village”. Most people in those villages always are the members of the family or marriage relationships. So they often have the same family names. They also have the communal farming areas, cemetery and the most important place is the village temples which worshipped the God of Land or the founders of the villages. All village activities always happen in those places. For the people in the South, their ancestors from the north, they had to leave their relatives and immigrated to the new land. They were from many different villages but in this land they had to live together. That was why they have got the “open village”. It means that they were not in the same family or the same relationship. They lived, worked, protected and exploited the new land together even they were not either brothers or sisters. In their thoughts, the neighborhood was more important than their bloody brotherhoods. Although the open village or close village, the village atmosphere or the communal living always exist in their minds. Sending regards, helping each other, sharing the works in farming, donating money for the communities become the key business of villagers. It also develops to another village. Whenever there are festivals, they will be the same happiness of all people in the area.
Families are one of the must in our culture. Being influenced by Confucianism, we are living in the big families including many generations. Grandparents, parents, children live in one house. The old people take care the young babies whereas the young couples earns money to support all expenses. The young people often need the experiences, the advices or the ideas from the old ones. Even some couples who can afford a condominium need the help of their parents as well. So, it is common to see 3 or 4 generations living in one house in Vietnam. We have the same kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms but different bedrooms. Because one bedroom is one family including husband, wife and children. Both husbands and wives work today. The lady in the family will share the housework together under the arrangement of the old people and of course with their partners. Our ladies wake up early in the morning, do exercises, go to the market to buy something for meals, prepare children to schools and go to work themselves.
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. Even those families follow Catholic or Buddhism, you can see their ancestor altars in the middle of the houses. Our Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even if dead from many generations, still rests along with their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons still have the spiritual communication 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, a cult 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 coming 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 ancestor remains.
Getting married is an important event in a Vietnamese’s life. The procedure of the ancient wedding ceremony was very complicated. The first step of the procedure is called matching. In the former feudal society, matching is the prerequisite. The next ceremony is called “lễ vấn danh”, in which the man’s family come over the girl house to ask for information about her to see if they are of compatible age for marriage. Following the ceremonies of visiting, “lễ dạm” and “lễ hỏi”. In some places, these two ceremonies are conducted at the same time. With this ceremony, the man’s family officially pays a visit the girl’s family, setting up the relationship, and discussing the wedding presents and the celebration of the wedding. “Lễ nạp tài” comes after. The future bridegroom’s family brings wedding presents to the future bride’s family. The day the bride leaves her house to the bridegroom’s house, the ceremony of meeting the bride and bringing her home are carried out. “Lễ gia tien” – announcing ceremony is conducted at both the groom and the bride’s houses. On this ceremony, the two families asking their ancestors for permission for the couple. The final ceremony is the wedding ceremony in which guests are invited to join a party and share the couple’s happiness. The couple should pray in front of the altar asking permission, then to express their gratitude to both groom’s and bride’s parents for raising and protecting them. Current wedding ceremony procedures include the following steps; the search for a husband or wife, the proposal, the registration, and finally the wedding. Sometimes, before the wedding, the groom and his family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel leaves, tea, cakes, 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.
“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 first ceremony is called “Lễ mộc dục”, in which the deceased person’s body was washed and dressed; next is “le phan ham”, in which a pinch of rice and three coins were dropped in the mouth. Before the next ceremony – “Lễ khâm liệm nhập quan” was carried out, the body was put a 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 then covered with white cloth and put into the coffin. Then, an altar with a tablet on which the name of the dead was written was set up. Finally, the deceased person’s descendants wore the mourning clothes. With this ceremony, the funeral ceremony was official performed. Mourning clothes were course gauze turbans and tunics, and hats made of straw or dry banana fiber. During the days when the dead were still laid out at home, the mourning went on with worshipping meals and mourning music. Relatives, neighbor, and friends came to offer their condolences. The date and time for the funeral procession must be carefully selected. Relatives, friends, and descendants took part in the funeral procession to accompany the dead along the way to the bury ground. At the grave site, the coffin was buried and covered. After the process of burying, a bowl of rice with 2 chopsticks vertically put on it, and a boiled egg were offered on the grave. After 3 days of mourning, the family visits the tomb again, this is called worship the opening the grave. After 49 days, the family stops bringing the rice for the dead to the altar. And finally, after 100 days, the family celebrates the end of the tears. After one year is the ceremony of the first anniversary and after 2 years is the ceremony of the end of the 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. Some choose the cremation as the second choice for their dead people.