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Vietnam Customs and Habits


Vietnam Customs and Habits


Worship of Ancestor Custom

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.Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even if dead for many generations, still rests along with their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons still have spiritual communion; 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, an announcing cult, cung tien thuong, 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 New 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 ancestors remains.

Wedding Ceremony

Getting married is an important event in a Vietnamese’s life. The procedure of the ancient wedding ceremony was very complicated. Current wedding ceremony procedures include the following steps: the search for a husband or wife, the proposal, the registration, and finally the wedding.
Depending on habits of specific ethnic groups, marriage includes various steps and related procedures, but generally there are two main ceremonies:
Le an hoi (betrothal ceremony): Some time before the wedding, the groom and his family visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel leaves, tea, cake, 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.
Le cuoi (wedding ceremony): Guests would be invited to come to join a party and celebrate the couple’s happiness. The couple should pray before the altar asking their ancestors for permission for their marriage, then to express their gratitude to both groom’s and bride’s parents for raising and protecting them. Guests will share their joy at a party later.

Funeral Ceremony

“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 body was washed and dressed; then a le ngam ham, or chopstick, was laid between the teeth and a pinch of rice and three coins were dropped in the mouth. Then the body was put on a grass 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 enveloped with white cloth, le kham liem, and put into the coffin, le nhap quan. Finally, the funeral ceremony, le thanh phuc, was officially performed

The deceased person’s sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law had to wear coarse gauze turbans and tunics, and hats made of straw or of dry banana fiber. The deceased person’s grandchildren and relatives also had to wear mourning turbans. During the days when the dead were still laid out at home, the mourning went on with worshipping meals and mourning music. Relatives, neighbours, and friends came to offer their condolences.
The date and time for the funeral procession, le dua tang, must be carefully selected. Relatives, friends, and descendants take part in the funeral procession to accompany the dead along the way to the burial ground. Votive papers were dropped along the way. At the grave site, the coffin is buried and covered. After three days of mourning, the family visits the tomb again, le mo cua ma or worship the opening the grave; after 49 days, le chung that, the family stops bringing rice for the dead to the altar. And finally, after 100 days, the family celebrates tot khoc, or the end of the tears. After one year is the ceremony of the first anniversary of the relative’s death and after two years is the ceremony of the end of 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. The deceased person’s family members wear a white turban or a black mourning band.

The Lunar Calendar in Vietnam

As with the Chinese, the Vietnamese lunar calendar begins with the year 2637 B.C. It has 12 months of 29 or 30 days each, and the year totals 355 days.

At approximately every third year, an extra month is included between the third and fourth months. This is to reconcile the lunar calendar with the solar one.

The Vietnamese like the lunar calendar because they can be sure of a full moon on the 15th day of each month. in their everyday life, however, they use the Gregorian calendar.

Unlike our centuries of 100 years, the Vietnamese calendar is divided into 60-year periods called "Hoi".

This "Hoi" or 60-year period is divided into two shorter cycles; one of a ten-year cycle and the other of a 12-year cycle.

The ten-cycle, called "Can" is composed of ten heavenly stems. Their names and approximate translation follow.

1.    Giap    water in nature

2.    At        water in the home

3.    Binh     lighted fire

4.    Dinh     latent fire

5.    Mau     wood of all types

6.    Ky        wood set to burn

7.    Canh    metal of all kinds

8.    Tan       wrought metal

9.    Nham    virgin land

10.   Quy      cultivated land

The 12-year cycle, "Ky", has 12 earthy stems represented by the names os 12 names in the zodiac. Their names and translations in order are:

1.    Ty      the rat

2.    Suu    the buffalo

3.    Dan    the tiger

4.    Meo    the cat

5.    Thin    the dragon

6.    Ty       the snake

7.    Ngo     the horse

8.    Mui      the goat

9.    Than    the monkey

10.   Dau     the cock (the chicken)

11.   Tuat     the dog

12.   Hoi      the pig

A Vietnamese year is named after the combination of one of the names of the ten heavenly stems and one of the names of the 12 earthly stems. For instance, 1964 was the Year of the Dragon, "Giap-Thin". Giap is the first of the ten-year cycles and Thin is the fifth of the 12-year cycle. The year 1965 was "At-Ty". This follows down the line each year. The ten-year stem is not usually mentioned when discussing the year. Thus, we hear, "The Year of the Dragon" or the "Year of the Snake", etc., etc., Giap-Thin, the Year of the Dragon, will not return for a 60-year period. This is true of all combinations.

Celebrating Tet

For centuries, Vietnamese people have celebrated Tet, the lunar new year. As they welcome the coming year and bid farewell to the past, they draw on traditional customs to mark this special day.
Erecting the Tet pole
As the spotted dove chirps three times announcing Tet
Let us erect the Tet pole and eat bean cakes
Whether a farmer in the countryside or worker in the city, everybody in Vietnam is stirred by this folk song. The image of a Tet pole raised in front of a village house (where it is thought to bring good luck and protection from evil spirits to the family within) inspires sweet memories of family gatherings and past celebrations. While it varies from region to region, the pole is usually made from a bamboo trunk that has been stripped of its lower branches, leaving only a few young leaves at the top. Attached is a bamboo basket containing betel and areca nuts and votive paper money.
Tet poles are also raised in pagodas where they join baked clay musical instruments, votive paper and festive banners. Lime powder is sprinkled around the entrance of the pagoda to chase away ghosts.
Burning incense
Incense burning at Tet has a long history and continues today because the smell of burning incense is thought to create harmony between heaven and earth, man and spirit. There are many kinds  of incense,  such  as frankin-cense, black incense, spiral incense, and musk incense, which can be burned not only in worship but also to rid a home of insects and bad odors. It is said that the smell of burning incense can lift a persons spirit. Perhaps thats why teachers used to burn it in their studies.
Freeing birds and fish
Releasing captured birds and fish is a Buddhist custom that is carried out at Tet because people consider it a good deed that will help them enter the New Year with luck. In the final day of the outgoing year, people flock to buy birds and fish, which they then release on the morning of the following day: the first day of the New Year.
Another way to enhance ones luck for the upcoming year is to walk away from the home, village or some other place at a time and in a direction that has been selected by a fortune teller.
Visiting the pagoda
According to belief, people often visit their neighborhood pagoda or temple once they have completed Tet celebrations at home. Such a visit will bring blessing from Buddha and from the spirit world. Worshipers jostle to approach the pagodas altar and, once thete, they pray for luck in the coming year.
Many will buy incense at the pagoda and carry it home, where they will burn it in offering to Buddha, the familys ancestors and protective spirits such as the Kitchen God, who will travel to heaven carrying news of each family members good and bad deeds. Others, instead of buying incense, pick a branch from a tree within the pagodas grounds (usually Banyan) and in the same way offer it as a gift to their ancestors by placing it on the family altar. Often, a family will ask the eldest woman amongst them to carry out this task. Families who pay particular attention to tradition will ensure that she visits the pagoda at a specific time and from a specific direction as foretold by a fortune teller. She must pluck a branch from the oldest tree in the pagoda grounds or from a Banyan near the village gate. Because of its long life, the Banyan represents longevity in people and is valued for that reason. Also, its name in Vietnamese, da, can have several meanings, one of which is much. Thus the tree offers not only longevity but also plenty.
Buying good luck and selling foolishness
In days of yore, markets sprung up around Vietnam during the first few days of the New Year where people came to buy good luck and sell foolishness. Each item they sold would relieve them of the previous years misfortune while each item they bought would bring good luck in the coming months. At these markets, goods changed hands rapidly and no one returned home empty handed. During those first few days of Tet, one could hear vendors cry: "Who will buy foolishness?" The goods they sold included rice, cakes, sweetmeats and toys, all of which were sold without profit.
First visitor
According to custom, the first person to visit a home in the New Year must be someone who will bring good luck and prosperity to the family. That person must be of good character and is usually a man. Only once that person has entered the home can children leave it to present Tet greetings to their elders.
If the visitor is not a family member, he should be invited in before enter-ing and will bring with him a firecracker, which he will light at the gate before entering the home and offering his greetings to the family inside. According to ancient beliefs, the firecracker will chase away ghosts while letting happiness in.
Tet greetings
Greetings made during the Tet period are special and are custom made for each recipient. To an old man or woman, younger people should offer longevity and happiness; to a farmer, the greeting should promise favorable  weather and a. bumper crop; to a trader, it should hope fore thriving business and to a government official, rapid promotion. Sometimes, these greetings are accompanied by lucky money offered inside a small red envelope.
While the annual exercise of Tet customs may morph with time, their essence remains unchanged. They are proof, if proof be needed, that Vietnams cultural traditions are alive and well, traveling safely from generation to generation

 

A brief introduction Vietnam village culture

Village culture is an important component taking part in creating Viet Nam cultural identity.
Being a typical agricultural country, peoples lives must depend much on natural conditions, thus, for existence and development, owners of Viet Nam villages that are peasants in the majority must rely on and link to each others. Thats why, communal character has been regarded as the first cultural characteristic of Viet Nam villages. This has been formed through close organization with many different rules.
First of all is the organization b asing on bloodline comprising family and kin. Family is the basis unit including people who are of bloodline relationship. Such families form kin. In Vietnamese thought, kin is sometimes more important than family. Concepts involving to kin such as head of a clan, patriarch, genealogy, temple of fore father;, ancestral anniversary, birthday feast,... are respected much.
From past time till now, village people have liked to live in big families. The family which is of three or four generations living together, its leader feels pround of. Compassion and assistance among people are the representation of kins strength. In a kin, everybody is responsible for protecting and assisting each others both material and spirit, guiding each others to promote their position in society.
The basis of bloodline relationship is hierarchy. The direct hierarchy system of Vietnamese people consists of nine generations from forefather, great grandfather, grandfather, father, I, child grandchild, great grandchild, postchild. This system is seldom met in the world. This creates the distinctiveness for Viet Nam culture one hand, the other hand it also forms few negative characters of rural persons. They are patriarchal behaviour and private.
Second is the organization basing on resident areas to be hamlets and villages. This is originated from agricultural environment. Because the wet rice cultivation request a big labour force, Vietnamese peasants not only bear much but also assist to  each others.  In  order to cope with the social environment such as robbing... it is necessary to cooperate to make effect. Vietnamese people can not live without relatives as well as without neighbors. The organization basing on habitat creates democracy and equality between man and man. This is regarded to be primary democratic form - village democracy. However, its flip side is dependent character and jealousy.
Countryside is also organized into guilds according to interests and vocations. In order to link persons who have the same vocation, guilds are set up such as pottery guild making ceramics, fishing guild, cloth guild weaving cloths, plaster guild doing constructional guild... As for persons of same hobbies or classes, there are associations such a association of scholars for civil mandarin in a village, literacy coterie links Confucian scholars in a village who are not mandarins martial coterie links persons who follow art of fighting, old men take part in gentlemen association, old women participate in lady guild, "To torn" guild (card game using a deck of 120 cards and played by five persons) chess guild, cock fighting guild... Although guild and association have some common points, the specializing character of guild is usually more deeply and its scale is often smaller. Democratic character   is . also   a   characteristic   of   guild   and association.  Thus,  people  in the  same  guild  are usually responsible for help each others.
Another rural organization is according to the tradition of "Giap" - called male. The head of Giap is the overseer, next are persons called "lenh" assisting the overseer. Participants in Giap is only male. It is hereditary, the father belongs to a Giap, his son will belong to that Giap. There are three main ages in Giap. From small to 18 years old called "infant", strong young men called "male individuals", old men called "elders". Reaching to "elder" is the supreme honour to any member in Giap. The age for reaching to "elder" is often 60 but some exceptions which regulate that this age- starts from 55 or 50 depending on each village. When a person gets "elder", he will sit on the above mat and will be respected by the whole village. The rule forming this organization is "respecting old man" because elders are always rich of experiences which is extremely important and essential to works of farmers, Giap is an organization in which expresses both hierarchy and democratic character of Vietnamese people.
Beside patterns mentioned above, Viet Nam villages are as well held up to administrative unit to be hamlet and commune. Commune is another calling of village and hamlet is another name of subdivision of a village in terms of administration. One commune. sometimes, may consist of few villages and a hamlet, may include some subdivisions.
In a commune, there is often of an existence of apparent discrimination between principal people and aliens. People whose origins are in village are called principal ones and people coming from other regions are called aliens. This discrimination is very sharp. While principal men are enjoyed all rights and interests, aliens are often treated without any respect,. This opposition is really of aim at restricting peasants to separate from their homes and also limiting aliens to come to live in village. Therefore, this discrimination is considered to be a means for maintaining the stability of villages.
Principal people are classified into five types. That are dignitaries (including persons who passed examinations or of grades); authorities (consisting of persons who are working for commune); elders (comprising men belonging to aged rank in Giap); male individuals (including strong boys in Giap) and infants (consisting of children). Dignitaries, authorities and the eldest in aged rank forming a section called village mandarins. This section manages three lower classes to be elders male individuals and infants. It may be said that, the administrative machinery of Viet Nam traditional villages   in   very   orderly   and   formed   gradually during the developing process of national culture as a historical product.
The rural organization according to many different rules at the same time has created two most basic characteristics of Viet Nam countryside to be community and autonomy.
The communal character is to unite all members in village, each person usually takes care other persons. This characteristic represents outward trend. This communal character bears the autonomy. Each village looks like a closing small nation with its own a law system (or customals) and a "mini court". The isolation itself has made the habit of "imperial power bends to suit rural customs" and demonstrates the special democratic relation between feudal state and Vietnamese villages.
The ground of the communal house, shores, banyans trees, have been regarded as traditional symbol f community. Every village has it own communal house. This is the place at which every respects in village life focuses most. All important works of village take place here, so, the communal house is an administrative centre. It is as well the place where festivals, performances of "tuong cheo" (kinds of old art) are held..., so, it is a cultural centre. It is the place for worshipping the tutelary spirit the patron god of the whole village, the destiny of the village is determined by terrain, the communal houses aspect, so the communal house is the centre of religion. And finally, it is also the sentimental center because both persons who are living and expatriates remember the communal house with all beloved sentiment each time thinking of their villages. If the communal house is the place where male gathers mainly, shores is principally for female. They do all their house work such as washing, cleaning rice and vegetables, etc, and talking here.
By the gate of the village, there is usually a century old banyan tree with a shrine below. The banyan is the place for saints and gods to gather and for peasants to stop on the way to their fields or for passers by...
Viet Nam village autonymy has its own traditional symbol. It is bamboo. The bamboo hedge covers around the village as a firm stronghold which is inviolable.
A series of Vietnamese peoples characters strong points and weak points, spinally farmers, are generated from two rooted characteristics said above.
The communitism emphasizes on the identity. Due to this, Vietnamese people are always ready to unite and help to each others, regard everybody in the community as brothers, relatives. This also creates collectiveness and harmony of Vietnamese. However,   the   negative  aspect  brought  from  the identity is that the individual consciousness is abolished. Vietnamese people usually depend on collectiveness with the notion of conciliation. Another serious shortcoming is envy. These defects makes the concept of "value" in Viet Nam relative. If there is only one good thing in a godless collectiveness, that good thing will become the bad one. If the whole collectiveness is bad, that bad is become usual, vice versa.
Different from the communalism, the autonymy emphasizes on the differentiation. Firstly is the differentiation between this community and that community. The strong point of this is to create communal independent spirit. Each village, each collectiveness has to settle and arrange its own issues by itself. Many traditional characters such as industriousness, self - sufficiency... are originated from this independent spirit.
However, when emphasizing too much on the differentiation, a series of other characters such as privative ness, selfishness, partial faction or patriarchal behavior... are born from. These bad habits have become a frightening obstacle for the social development, thus, nowadays, they are criticized by Vietnamese themselves.
Character of a nation is determined by features of habitable environment and peculiarity of peoples
thought in that nation. The water rice agricultural environment and the dialectical thought created lunar and solar principle and ambiguous behaviors of Vietnamese. Two rooted characteristics which are contrary to each other to be the communalism and the autonyms generated both good and bad habits. They combine to each other into pairs in Vietnamese peoples. In the case, the whole community has to face to big difficulties or challenges which even though threaten its existence the solidarity and the collectiveness will be highly called forth. But when that difficulties no longer exist, the privativeness and partial faction may rise.
All cultural characteristics mentioned above mainly appear in villages of the Northern plain. In the rule of Nguyen Kings, the Southern plain was exploited. This created more new traits for Viet Nam villages. The commonest characteristic of Northern villages is not the closing autonomy, it is open attitude vice versa. Without solid bamboo hedges surrounding their homes, instead, they are usually changeable. Thus, their characters become freer. These characteristics exist not by chance. The changeability of residents is due to there their villages   to   find   other   lands   which   are   more convenient to live. The free character is owing to stable climate, favorable natural conditions with the rare appearance of natural calamity. Open and free characters facilitate to receive easterly influences from outside. However, in spite of having different features from Northern villages Southern villages still have bamboos, communal house for worshipping tutelary and have festivals. Although Northern people are free, they still be industrious and still respect the communalism. Thus, Viet Nam cultural identity has still preserved its unification.
Running along the stretch of Viet Nam, there are several villages. Each one beside of common features, has its own impressive traits. It is possible to say that every village or hamlet is also of certain merits or achievements. Among them, there are some ones who are notable for their private traits and they are called traditional cultural villages.
That may be literary villages, lands of study or examination system in which, there are many people who passed examinations or take part in teaching, writing books... Even though, a village with only one well known poet lich as Tien Dien with the great poet Nguyen Du has been regarded as a village of literary tradition.
That may be martial villages, where there are several   military   leaders   or   wrestlers   and   also
many sports and martial games. Boc village with the famous wrestling custom is a example.
That may be vocational villages with traditional handicrafts such as incrustation, woodwork, forging... A villages fame may be due to the whole village does that vocation or just some professionals but their products are esteemed in many places.
That may also market village specializing trade and" commerce. Above are four typical traditional cultural villages in Viet Nam. Right from the feudalism, the cultural value of villages was much respected. Many feudal dynasties were consciousness of bringing up nice qualities of villages. A village who has good families with virtuous persons is also considered to be a cultural village.
When the country encountered enemy at the end of the 19th century, Vietnamese people both coped with invaders and got in touch with new ideas revolution villages or resistance ones were formed and paid homage to. The combination between tradition and newness has done its share in making villages more beautiful.
In history of Viet Nam culture, village culture has developed and brought its influence into play as a substance in communities, collectiveness and individuals of Vietnamese, meaning in villages of Viet Nam. In order to understand manifestation of village culture, it is necessary to understand these traditional cultural villages.
Content of village culture may be researched through aspects such as social culture, spiritual culture and art culture. Each aspect has many different cultural phenomena, among them, some have become symbols of certain traditional value. Images of communal houses, banyan trees, water wells, mulberry terraced fields call up something familiar and moving to expatriates. Genealogies, habits, customable is the treasure folk knowledge in which a lot of social and historical information is contained. Historical relics, archaeological vestiges, headstones or festivals with their rich content express significance of religion, habit literature, music, art at many respects.
All has made liveliness as well as the pride for ages of Viet Nam to their villages.

The Lion Dance

Why do people perform the Lion Dance? Once upon a time, there was a woodcutter who lived in a forest. On one moonlit Mid-Autumn night, he saw a big lion playing with the moonlight by the forest stream. The lion jumped into the stream to catch the reflection of the moon in the water, but whenever it did so, the moon disappeared. This made the lion so angry he flew into a rage and stormed into a nearby village.
Hearing the villagers call for help, the woodcutter chopped off a tree branch to make a club. After much effort, he defeated the lion. The villagers admired the woodsmans strength and asked him to re-stage his struggle with the lion. Since then, villagers have held lion dances at their annual Mid-Autumn Festivals. Two persons in the role of a brave woodcutter and a strong lion challenge each other in martial arts style, portraying the great fight in which the woodcutter saved the village

Paper figures of doctoral laureates

During the Mid-Autumn season, markets, parties, and homes display paper figures of successful students at the highest royal administrative examination. This tradition relates to the tough selection of Confucian scholars for the kings administration.

During Viet Nams dynastic period, students who had completed ten years of study took part in the provincial examination (thi Hương), which were held every three years. Those who passed with high marks were called cử nhân, and those with lower marks were called tú tài. The tú tài and those who failed had to wait for the next exam, whereas the cử nhân continued their studies another three years to participate in the Metropolitan Examination (thi Hội). Those with high marks took part in the Highest Imperial Examination (thi Đình). Those who passed the thi Đình were called Doctoral Laureate (Tiến sỹ). Those who came in first were called Trạng nguyên; those who came in second, Bảng nhãn; and third, Thám hoa.
In preparation for Mid-Autumn Tết, many children make a "doctoral laurate" out of paper to express their hope of succeeding in their studies.

When To Travel To Vietnam

Good time to Travel in Vietnam is from September to June. However, Vietnam has three different regions – the North, the Central and the South – each with different weather patterns and different rainy seasons. This means that there is neither a best time nor a worst time to visit Vietnam. Hot summer or Cold winter is not that a big deal. Nice beaches such as Halong bay, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne - Phan Thiet or Phu Quoc Island are always available; Sapa and Dalat highlands offer great places for cool temperature. You can find your favourite kind of weather all year round for your next Vietnam Tours!

 

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