Young Vietnamese-Americans today have an expectation from their parents and grandparents to embrace their Vietnamese culture and pass it on to their own children. There are many traditions which may never die out such as passing out red envelopes for good luck during Tet every year. On the April 29, 2010 OneVietnam published the article “What’s the Big Deal with Vietnamese Traditions?” addressing whether or not le dính hôn is a tradition that may be dying out. In this article, I will expand on this…
You may be able to recall a very formal ceremony during the wedding of an aunt, uncle, older cousin or relative. The bride’s family prepares for the arrival of the groom and his family who will parade down the sidewalk bearing gifts under red silk cloths. If you and your family are Buddhist, after the introduction of each others’ parents, the six stand together in front of an altar in the home to seek the permission and the blessings of the ancestors to marry. There is no monk to formally bless the marriage; in fact, this is only done in the home and the couple would soon go to City Hall to sign the marriage certificate.
Interracial relationships are on the rise. As a young Vietnamese, Buddhist woman, how will you and your American, Christian husband-to-be plan your wedding? There are not enough hours in the day to fulfill every tradition in each others’ books. Which traditional practices are important enough to each of you to keep and which traditions must be let go in order to spare the wedding guests the agony of a twenty-two hour wedding?
The tradition of “ruoc dau” when the groom and his family march to the home of his bride’s parents bearing gifts is an old one stemming from a time long ago when you didn’t know who you would marrying. Hundreds of years ago, the groom would come to the bride’s home bearing gifts to show the bride’s father how financially well-endowed he was and that he was capable of taking care of the bride for the remainder of her life. After the father examines the many gifts and gives permission, the bride is finally able to come out and face, for the first time, her husband-to-be. At this time, the two would light incense sticks with their parents and pay their respects to their ancestors. This formal deed is an act for the bride to introduce her groom to her ancestors as a new member of the family. After this is done, both families go to the home of the groom’s parents and present themselves just the same—if it is his belief to do so, as well.
The time of anonymous, arranged marriages have passed but this tradition lives on in respect to the Vietnamese Culture. As a young Vietnamese bride, you have introduced your American significant other to many parts of your culture—the food, the thick sweet coffee otherwise known as café sua da, and the many desserts such as che, but the time has now come to introduce him to more serious and more important traditions. Which parts of this long-honored tradition will you acknowledge, and which must be sacrificed?
Your husband-to-be will comply out of love and respect for you, but it would be out of the question to expect his Caucasian, Christian family to march to your home bearing gifts of fruit, tea and even a full roasted pig. He and his parents lighting incense sticks for ancestors may be a bit intimidating but hopefully they are willing to do it out of love and respect for you and your family. I, personally, could never ask my future in-laws to get on their knees and bow down to my family’s altar, but I would be honored if they at least lit a few incense sticks and held it while my parents and I bowed our heads to the ground before planting our sticks in the small ceramic cup.
This ceremony, including the luncheon, will take up a few hours of your wedding day, but it’s not over yet. Now is the time for the entire family to drive to the groom’s Christian church to be married before a minister. At the church, the bride will change out of her formal ao dai and into a traditional white dress and veil with the help of her mother and bridesmaids.
The bride’s father will escort her down the aisle to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” and he will reply, “Her mother and I do,” when the minister asks him, “Who gives this woman to this man,” and the Christian union will proceed beginning with readings that compare a Christian marriage to a covenant relationship and analyzing God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. The bride and groom stand there as the minister explains the significance of a Christian wedding ceremony.
The minister then invites the parents of both the bride and the groom to approach the altar and light a candle representing their own half. The bride and groom each take the candle their own mothers have lit and together lighting a single candle representing the union of two parts. The bride and groom then take their place in front of the minister where he asks for the rings and blesses them after explaining the symbolism of the ring. It is strong, like their love is, and it has no end, like their marriage. The minister asks if they take each other in sickness and health and until death would they part. Each answer “I do,” as they slip the rings on their partner’s hand and the minister pronounces them husband and wife as their friends and family applaud.
Is this a fair compromise? There are many different ways to incorporate the traditions that are most important to you and your future spouse and deciding which ones are the most important to carry out. It is impossible to include every tradition of both very different cultures out of respect for each of you, so now is the time to make the decision. Which traditions will you keep and which do you think will have to be sacrificed?