Vietnamese Proposal Traditions

by Ann Mazzaferro

Traditional Vietnamese wedding proposals are formal and highly ritualized.

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Vietnamese wedding proposals are complex, formal affairs that require intense planning. An elaborate engagement ceremony is the culmination of months-long discussions and closely chaperoned courtship. While the pressures of modern life lead many Vietnamese couples to choose a faster engagement, conservative Vietnamese families insist on the rituals of a traditional Vietnamese wedding proposal.

Written in the Stars

No traditional Vietnamese marriage is created without consulting horoscopes and astrologers. Consulting the village matchmaker used to be the first sign that a Vietnamese man was considering a wife, but this tradition has largely faded with time. However, astrologers and horoscopes are still influential in determining the course of a marriage proposal. Not only are the bride and groom matched according to their astrological specifications, but astrologers suggest the dates of their marriage ceremony and the proposal ceremony which, choosing fom dates astrologers recommend. No specific calendargoverns which dates are lucky for Vietnamese wedding proposals. Instead, auspicious dates are determined by the hours and days that the bride and groom were born.

Messengers of Marriage

A marriage proposal is a group effort in traditional Vietnamese weddings. Before the formal engagement ceremony, the parents of the couple will meet to discuss the terms and conditions of the bride’s dowry, which the groom’s family will give in exchange for the bride’s hand in marriage. At the proposal ceremony, both the bride and groom will be represented by two close friends or family members. Married couples who are friends of the bride and groom are popular modern choices, but in the past these discussions were left to close family members.

The Ceremony

The groom and his family dress in their best attire and walk to the bride’s house, whereupon he formally presents the engagement gifts to her family at the front gate. Once he is inside, the groom’s male representative makes the formal marriage proposal on behalf of the groom. The bride’s representative accepts the proposal, and the bride and groom pray to their ancestors at the family altar, where the gifts have been laid. They then exchange the rings and the families welcome each other as family members instead of guests. An enormous feast follows, though in some more conservative families the bride will leave the room and the groom will be left to attend to guests. At the end of the day, the bride divides the gifts into two piles and sends the smaller of the two with the groom’s family.

Giving Gifts

Gifts are hugely important in Vietnamese marriage proposals. The giving of gifts signifies the generosity of the groom’s family and his ability to provide for his future wife, while accepting the gifts demonstrates the modesty and humility of the bride. Gifts are presented at several points during the proposal and engagement process and must always include betel and areca nuts. Slivers of areca nuts are covered in lime paste and wrapped in betel leaf, resulting in a sweet, spicy and hot snack. Betel and areca nuts are present at almost every major holiday in Vietnamese culture, and are especially important for weddings and engagements. Other gifts from the groom can include tea, sweet cakes, jewelry and small luxury items.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Hailing from California, Ann Mazzaferro is a professional writer who has written for "The Pacifican," "Calliope Literary Magazine" and presented at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference. Mazzaferro graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of the Pacific.