I don’t remember who but once a person asked me (I am sure it was a guy): ” Why do you want to get married?” I couldn’t answer. I said, maybe for the protection of the law but then again, it’s not really that. If two people love each other it’s enough for them to just live together, why do they want to strap each other with law and all that bullshit? Don’t they trust each other or do they have some kind of shady motives up their sleeves? Are they afraid their relationship won’t last for too long if they are not engaged or married? Why do we get married? Because that’s tradition, because that’s what our ancestors did. They did it because they believed in God but many of us now, don’t care about such things anymore. Doesn’t that make getting married kind of pointless? During our discussion, with that guy, I thought what he said made a lot of sense. If I don’t believe in God then there is no reason to get married.
But, much later, another question popped into my mind. “Why do we spend Christmas then?” Sure, it’s not (only) because you want to celebrate the birth of Christ. And everyone knows he wasn’t born on 24th of December, anyway. So why? If anyone asked me now “Why do you want to get married?” then I would ask “Why do you celebrate Christmas or Easter?” For me wedding is a happy occasion when two families meet, get know each other and join into one big family. And what’s wrong with getting married just because it’s a tradition? Some traditions are fun and exciting. Why forget about them? When I get married it will be just for the sake of a good party, no less no more.
The most important day of my winter trip finally came. I arrived to my friend’s house one evening before the D-day and she took me to her uncle’s hotel which was located a few blocks away from her house. I got this clean spacey room with air con and nice shower all for myself and slept a good night sleep. Her uncle let me stay for free and later my friend suggested it would be good to buy him a big clock as a thank you present. I got to write my message on it but didn’t know what to write so in the end it was just an embarrassing: “You are good people. Thank you for letting me stay at your hotel!” My friend commented my handwriting was really bad, not the first time I heard so, haha.
The wedding had two parts: the ceremony among the closest family members (tea ceremony) and the dinner with 500 guests (including probably every single person the parents knew). The first ceremony started around 8 am and lasted a few hours, after which the family members were packed into a rented bus and speedily taken to a fancy restaurant for the less serious party.
The Tea Ceremony
It was about to start when I arrived. Everyone was smiling but there was some solemn festive tension in the air. A bit of the last minute hassle going on while everyone was waiting for the groom and his family to arrive. There were table arranged in front of the house, women sat together on one side and the men on the other; under a small canopy arranged in front of the house, to shed the guests from sunlight, and it was the only thing which actually highlighted the party. Neighbors who were chilling and grilling in front of their houses by the roadside didn’t pay much attention to the party.
When the groom arrived with his closest family members, about 20 people if not more. They arrived in a bus. Once they all got out they arranged themselves into a long line, everyone was holding gifts. First came the father with another male (representative of the family), then mother, then groom and then others, each holding a basket covered with red cloth. Most of the women were dressed into Vietnam’s national dress and the men in suits with glitter (later I was covered in glitter as well…). Male representatives of both families exchanged a shot of wine and after that the groom’s family walked into the house to place all the gifts in front of the family altar. During this time the bride didn’t come out, only when everything was ready she was finally brought out and the ceremony started.
Everyone except the hassling photographer woman, groom and his parents, bride and her parents, grandparents of both + some other relatives who helped to arrange the gifts, went out from the house and sat around the arranged tables under the canopy. But the windows and doors were open for people to watch and take pictures. The male photographer seemed less crazy compared to the woman who was buzzing around the wedding couple and asking everyone to pose for pictures. even trough the ceremony people were asked to freeze and pose. I found that hilarious.
The ceremony itself didn’t seem complicated, just long. Parents and grandparents were seated around a small table in the corner not far from the altar and tea was poured into cups. Everyone waited as the gifts were being arranged around the altar, it took some time since there were so many baskets. The gifts consisted of fruits, flowers cake etc.
Unfortunately I can’t speak Vietnamese so I am not 100% sure what was going on. Here in detail what I saw: Some more arranging the altar. Groom giving the bouquet to the bride. The groom’s parent’s greeted people in the room and then bowed to the altar with candles in their hands, then the candles were placed on the altar. Another bow. Then the bride’s parents bowed to the altar followed by the wedding couple. Then the parents of the groom gave their presents to the bride. They must give earrings (tradition of the south), the price is equivalent to respect, so the more expensive the more they respect her. There was some complication with putting on the earrings with the efforts of the groom’s mother, the groom, the bride’s mother, and the bride herself. After the earring war the groom kissed his bride’s hand. Then bride’s father handed a red envelope to the groom, everyone can guess what’s inside. Then the grandmas gave their gifts to the couple. Then some family photos were taken. Then the couple walked out and to the table of the males where a few shots of alcohol were drunk, by the males only. Then they greeted every guest personally and received a red envelope from everyone.
Here is a video about traditional Vietnamese wedding with explanations. My friend’s wedding ceremony wasn’t exactly as strict as on the video but more or less just the same. Later the wedded couple told me “We are just young Vietnamese, we don’t know anything about these ceremonies. We just do it because that’s what is expected from us.” I can imagine how a Christian church ceremony doesn’t really make any sense for many, they just do it because that’s the custom. The ridiculousness of life, heh. Anyway, here is another blog post with awesome wedding photos.
As I stood there looking at the ceremony I thought it’s not much different from Christian or any other wedding ceremony. Elders of the family are greeted, gifts presented, the ceremony itself in front of the altar, wedding photographers, it’s all the same. I liked how this particular ceremony wasn’t so strict but rather laid back. There was no bridezilla and everything was slightly disorganized in a heartwarming way. Everyone was in good mood and all smiles, except, of course, the moment when the bride and groom became wife and husband and some tears were shed. The grandmas were really cute and mothers pretty!
I heard that 500 people were invited, about 450 came. You can imagine. A whole big restaurant was booked, it was an outside restaurant with huge veranda with a stage and, to my doom, huge speakers (hello migraine). For some reasons there were only male waiters, their uniform consisted of jeans and white collar shirt. The guest started arriving slowly but in a way so there was no quiet moment at the reception desk. I got to sit with the family members behind the reception desk, every guest had to leave a red envelope into a big heart shaped (home made) box, decorated with glitter and such. At some point the box came so full it was hard to squeeze in any more envelopes. There were no wedding presents, just the envelopes with money. But I guess that’s pretty good too!
In Finland, usually, there is “present list” from which guests can choose what they will bring, money is an option too but usually it’s something else. In Russia they usually bring envelopes too, and flowers. But everyone hands the envelope personally and wishes something good to the couple. At this wedding party, after you have given your envelope you receive a small heart shaped sticker on your clothes, indication you are a “wanted” guest. However, many males refused to accept the sticker, probably thinking it was childish. As the guests came in the couple and their parents stood at the entrance and greeted every single person, welcoming everyone in. The couple didn’t know even half of the guests since they were friends, coworkers and distant relatives of their parents etc. But still, that did not stop anyone from taking pictures together.
I’m not sure if there was any order with the seats but everything went on smoothly, guests found their places and sat down around the tables. At some point they started serving drinks: lemonade and beer, as much as you can drink (there was Vietnamese version of Coca Cola which tasted like a mixture of gasoline and cough medicine, no kidding!) The waiters put huge ice cubes into everyone’s glasses once in a while. They were pretty good at that because every time my ice cube was about to melt away I got instantly another one. The drinks were not cooled and it was probably +30 outside, that’s why. Another wedding ceremony was held, they started serving food when the ceremony started. There were several dishes: everything began with seafood tempura and deep friend tofu, the rest of the foods were sort of hot pots with sprouts, flowers, greens and different meats: beef, pork and chicken.
Foods, the bottle is Vietnamese cola.
The ceremony was western style. The wedding couple and their parents walked to the stage for introduction, the couple cut the cake and poured champagne over a tower of glasses. The male photographer tripped over microphone’s cord and almost fell down in the middle of the stage, hehe. After the cake cutting everyone left the stage and people were free to go up there and sing a song for the couple. My friend’s mother tried to get me there but I suck at singing and don’t remember any songs by heart. A pity though, if it was karaoke I would have sung something. The music? Basic techno beat on the background and a man playing the tune on his synthesizer, I have no idea how he knew every single song’s melody. Some people went to sing, mostly drunk men but they seemed to be having a lot of fun.
During the tea ceremony the bride was dressed into red traditional Vietnamese dress, later at the restaurant during the reception and ceremony she wore western wedding dress and later she changed into another dress. Since the couple had to go to each table and great everyone personally they didn’t have any time to rest or eat. So sad.
Wedding ceremony is a long process for Vietnamese, first the parents should meet up for a couple of times before the wedding, traveling to each other’s houses. Then there is a ceremony at the girl’s house, then another ceremony at the guy’s house. It’s a pity I couldn’t go for the groom’s ceremony but I am really happy I could make it to my friend’s wedding. If I didn’t go I would have regretted a lot. I heard that parents must invite a lot of people to the wedding, including everyone they know. If they don’t invite someone it will bring them bad reputation so weddings are VERY SERIOUS business in Vietnam and expensive too. But since all guests bring money (the closer you are to the inviting family the more you should bring) which is kind of like paying entrance fee, the cost of the wedding gets covered. In the end, I guess Vietnamese weddings are not about the couple, they are about people getting together and traditions. Most of the guests are someone parents know (I didn’t see many young people as in couple’s friends), the couple spends most of their time greeting guests instead of having fun, so exhausting! In the west it’s all about the couple in Asia it’s all part of a BIGGER picture.