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What to Know about Death Anniversary in Vietnam


The Vietnamese are known for their long-lasted ancestral commemoration in their families. The unique traditional traits of Vietnam are called death anniversary. While Birthday and Valentine's Day are essential in the west, Death Anniversary is the feature of worship customs in some Asian countries, including Vietnam. Read on if you have ever wondered what the death anniversary in Vietnam is and its spiritual importance to Vietnamese people.

The General Concept of Death Anniversary in Vietnam

Death anniversary in Vietnam or "Ngay Gio" in Vietnamese is the anniversary of passed-away members in the family, whose deceased day must be at least precisely one year until the ceremony is taken place. Death anniversary in Vietnam is held according to the dates on the lunar calendar, on which usually the oldest brother will take charge of the worshiping.

what is death anniversary

Family member doing the worshiping

Moreover, it is normal when a family has several ceremonies for the different passed-away members per year. The anniversary bears significant meanings to Vietnamese families, as this is not only the time to commemorate the deceased but also the occasion for all family members to gather and bond with each other. 

The Rituals and Activities in A Death Anniversary in Vietnam

The death anniversary in Vietnam held big or small depends on each family's economic condition. Generally, in these days, many members of the family give their hands in the feast preparation and the materials for the ancestor worship weeks before the ceremony officially happens.

On the anniversary day, all the descendants will dress neatly, burn incenses to pray in front of the ancestor altar as a way to show their respect and wish for a peaceful year ahead. The family also arrange tables, set the feast on them beforehand. Then, they receive the offerings of the guests, which are usually fruits, and place them on the altar. People invited to the ceremony are relatives, neighbors, or the ones who have a close relationship with the deceased. As soon as the incenses burn out, all members and guests sit down together to enjoy the food, have some drinks and catch up with each other at the same time. When the feast is over, the family will divide all the offerings into different bags and share them with all guests as a fortune of ancestral worship.

food of death anniversary

A huge table of foods is prepared to serve

Unlike the Vietnamese funerals where people mourn and grieve on the deceased, the death anniversary in Vietnam embraces a more delightful atmosphere year on year. It is not just an annual activity of worship and commemoration, but the occasion for family members to connect love, trust, and share their stories in their lives together.

The Significant Days of Celebrating Death Anniversary in Vietnam

The First Death Anniversary 

first anniversary

Many kinds of fruits are placed on the altar

On this day, the sorrowful ambiance does still surrounds the family members, as it takes place only a year after the death of their beloved. As a result, the ceremony is taken place in a solemn way, where guests and family members wear formal costumes. Besides serving feast, they also burn joss paper and money. Laughing and telling jokes are not preferred during attendance.

The Second Anniversary 

In other Vietnamese word, we call it "Le Dai Tuong", which is held after two years since the person died. According to Vietnamese spiritual belief, the second anniversary is believed to be the most important ceremony for the deceased because it is the turning point for both the living and the dead. Comparing to the first one, the second anniversary becomes a little less depressed, and the owner of the family invites many guests to the ceremony.

In the third month after the second anniversary, the family will burn away all the belongings of their passed-away members. This is known as "Bo Tang" in Vietnamese, or you can understand that this is when the alive members stop their mourning period.

Annual Anniversary 

normal death anniversary

Many families prefer a small anniversary with a few special guests

The ordinary anniversary is held after three years onwards when the atmosphere is more delightful. Most far relatives and family members will reunite on this day, and people do not need to wear so formally on this day. The owner of the family will invite fewer guests and include mostly close friends and relatives, instead of holding an extravagant feast.

Some Notes If You Are to Be Invited to A Death Anniversary in Vietnam:

  • Most invitations won't say the time that you can come, as it is somewhat an unspoken rule that you join before noon
  • It is customary to bring small gifts like fruits or beers when visiting a family holding a death anniversary
  • You can ask first if you should offer incense to the altar
  • In some traditional households, the men and women will sit at separated tables, so you are advised to ask first which table you can join
  • There's no need to get too dressed up, but casual and appropriate clothes are expected
  • Check out our guide for What to Know When Drinking with A Vietnamese.

Conclusion of Death Anniversary in Vietnam

Death anniversary is one of the special traditional rituals of Vietnam to show the "Drink water, and honor the source" gratitude to ancestors. In addition, it is the time for a family to come together and build up a stronger relationship, harmony, and love.

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Saturday, 23 September 2023

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