In many orient countries, funeral is deemed one of the most important events of a lifetime since Eastern people hold a belief that there is afterlife where the dead ones continue their lives. One purpose of the funeral is to show respect to the one that passed away. Another purpose is to prepare well for his or her afterlife. In this blog, we will show you common practices of Vietnamese funeral customs.
There are different practices across the country since there are 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam. However, Vietnamese funeral customs basically include some points below.
Vietnamese funeral costume is white clothes with white headband. This clothes are made of very thin gauze textile so the dead person’s family wears this clothes over their regular clothes. You might notice that in a funeral, there are people who wear white headband with the clothes, some others just wear white headband. Whether you should wear the complete costume or not depends on your relationship with the dead person. If you are his or her direct family (immediate family) such as husband or wife, sibling, son, daughter, or grandchildren, you should wear the white headband and the white clothes as well. If you are just a relative, you only wear a white headband.
Vietnamese funeral costume
For the deceased, the body is washed and dressed in formal clothes. The body is then wrapped with white cloth and put into a coffin with their foot towards the main entrance of the house. Before that, the family will create an altar for the dead. In recent years, this step is significantly simplified compared to that in the old time. In the past, before putting the dead body in the coffin, there was a small ceremony called "lễ ngậm hàm". A pair of chopsticks is laid between the dead person’s mouth, then rice and 3 three coins are put into his or her mouth.
During the time when the dead person is laid out at home, the wake takes place with worshipping meals and mourning music. A music band will be hired to play funeral music and the family will have to prepare well for relatives, neighbors, and friends to stop by to show respect and regret to the dead person. The wake may last for three to five days, then comes the funeral procession.
(Please note that this is different from the annual death anniversary because the loss has just taken place and is being felt very strongly among the family of the deceased, thus greater tact in behavior is required)
Visitors to a Vietnamese funeral pay their homage to the deceased by doing the following - first, go to the main altar, receive incense from the deceased's family, then keep the burning incense in your hands, bow and pray for peace to the deceased. It is also a norm for visitors to give a certain amount of money (put in an envelope provided by the family at the funeral) in order to help with the funeral procession which is quite costly.
When attending Vietnamese funeral, first go to the main altar to burn incense and pray for peace to the deceased
Envelops are provided at guests' tables for them to donate money to the deceased's family, helping with the funeral hefty costs
The funeral procession is the most important step of the funeral. The date and the time of the funeral procession must be very carefully selected and often based on the consultation of an experienced fortune-teller. In Vietnamese funeral customs, the eldest son of the family is the person that leads the procession. Following are other members of the family, relatives, and close friends of the dead person. On the way to the gravesite, votive papers and spare change will be dropped along the way.
Read more: Vietnamese family values
The funeral procession often led by the eldest son of the deceased
A typical Vietnamese funeral hearse followed by friends and relatives of the deceased on their bikes. On the way to the gravesite, votive papers and spare change will be dropped along the way
At the gravesite, the coffin is buried at the chosen time which is also based on the consultation of the fortune teller. After three days of mourning, the deceased's family will pay a visit to the gravesite. During those 3 days and the next 46 days, which is 49 days in total, the family will bring worship meal to the altar of the dead person every day. After 100 days, the family holds a small ceremony to mark the end of the mourning.
Friends and family of the deceased at the burial house
In recent years, some urban families, instead of bury the deceased in the cemetery which is usually far from the city's center, will proceed with cremation. The ash will be kept in a container, placed in a pagoda, and taken care of by the monks. This makes it more convenient for the families to make regular visits.
Above are the Vietnamese funeral customs. Commonly, depending on how high the position the deceased held in the family hierarchy, family members have to keep honoring his or her death up to 3 years. There is an annual anniversary when the family invites relatives and close friends to join a party in memorial of the passed away person. On Tet holiday or special occasions, the deceased’s family will visit the gravesite and do the cleanup, light the incense and leave flowers there.
The majority of Vietnamese follow Buddhist beliefs (though not necessarily being a Buddhist), and they follow the above practices. However, Christians in Vietnam have funeral customs that are quite different. When a Christian dies, the church will ring a bell to inform all the parishioners in the parish: 7 times for a man and 9 times for a woman. Same as the popular custom, the deceased is bathed and well dressed. There is an opening statement read by a priest. Then, prayers are read and sung for the deceased during the funeral. When the deceased is buried, relatives and acquaintances will continue to read and sing prayers for the next 3 days.
Nowadays, although the funeral customs are simplified, it is still a very important ceremony. Funerals in Vietnam culture can be quite costly since the majority of Vietnamese still hold a belief that the soul subsists after death and they always try to prepare everything for a wealthy afterlife.
© Written by Minh Thuy and Vy Thai for itourvn.com
Hi Hoang Pham! I have a question. How soon can the widow(er) start dating or get married again? Is it after 49th day and before 100th day? I want to understand when can the widow(er) start looking for a relationship again. I can not find the answer to my question.
Thank you for this post. I have been invited to an annual death ceremony, the father passed away some time ago. Is there something I should bring? Or any particular things I should not do?
I'd recommend buying some small gifts for the family such as a basket of fruits.
We also have a blog on the annual death ceremony which I think can give you some more ideas
Hoang Pham from I Tour Vietnam
i want to ask a question my friend past away he wa vietnamese so i want to ask is it okay for me to attend the burial the next day after the viewing or am I expected to stay at home i am sad and mourning the loss of a friend but still lost on what to do due to me not being vietnamese i am worried i dont want to do anything wrong.
It's ok to attend the burial day. You can also refer to Vietnamese Superstitions to make sure there won't be any awkward moments.
I am sorry for the loss of your friend.