Despite the fact that there is disapproval of superstitious practices from the government, most Vietnamese still have strong deep-rooted beliefs in superstitions that were set by our ancestors long ago. These Vietnamese superstitions not only reflect in our traditions, culture, day to day life but to the extent that they can also dictate from which date is the best to open a business, go on a vacation or wedding ceremony, etc. Just as an old Vietnamese proverb goes “Co kieng co lanh”, which can be roughly translated to “There is no worship without sacredness, there are no taboos without luck”. Here are what you should know about Vietnamese superstitions so that you can cultivate your own luck too.
Vietnamese usually offer foods and burn ghost money and votive items like houses, clothes, and cars for the death so that they can eat, spend, use and continue their afterlife in another world. You can often see this ritual during the Tet holiday, one's funeral, the death memorial occasions, and Vietnamese Ghosts Month or so-called Thang Co Hon.
To chase away bad luck, Vietnamese will burn incense or a piece of paper and fan the smoke. The sellers often do this when a customer comes and leaves without buying anything first thing in the morning as they believe the customer has brought bad spirits to the shop. The Chinese Vietnamese has a similar ritual where they burn and step over charcoal.
There are many kinds of fortune-telling in Vietnam, and the Vietnamese really love fortune-telling. The word for it in Vietnamese is "coi boi", and the most popular time for this is at Tet Holiday (coi boi dau nam). People, especially the female, will go to fortune-tellers (thay boi) and see their luck in the relationship with family members, love life, and work or business progress in the next year. Even though it can be a fun thing to do once in a while, there are many Vietnamese who actually believe in it and got their money swindled, so it gives a bad impression when people talk about fortune-telling.
The traditional fortune-telling includes Tu vi (a combination of reading your star sign, lunar calendar birthday, gender, and some previous events in the past to tell your future), palm reading, and zodiac signs reading. The Vietnamese, especially the young ones, also other kinds of fortune-telling from foreign countries like the horoscope and tarot. While there are some fortune-telling methods seeming to use logical reasoning in the reading, but most of them are based on no actual scientific proof or solid pieces of evidence.
Comes with fortune-telling, there have to be remedies if the result of reading your destiny is bad. While there are many superstitions in Vietnam about what can bring people bad luck like breaking a mirror and seeing a crow or black cat, Vietnamese have an arsenal of ways to get rid of misfortune as well.
According to Vietnamese superstitions, whenever you seem to have too much misfortune in your life, you’re being shadowed by a spirit. In order to get rid of it, it is advised that you should draw a line of salt in front of your door, this will act as a talisman or protective charm that will keep the spirits from entering your home.
Burning incense is a way to respect the gods and the deceased relatives
Most Vietnamese have multiple altars in both their home and workplace to worship their ancestors as well as different deities like Buddha, Bodhisattva, Than Tai (Caishen) - God of Wealth, and Phuc Loc Tho - the three Gods of Prosperity, Wealth, and Longevity. Read more about Religions in Vietnam here.
Depends on what you’re praying for, be it health, wealth, or general fortune for yourself and your family, you will pray to different deities. However, make sure that the number of incense you use is always odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) when making offerings to ancestors or Buddhist deities. Learn more about how incense is made.
For many business owners, whenever they meet a bad customer or their sales are down, they can also just light up a piece of paper and send their bad luck away in the wind with the dark smoke. This practice is known as Dot phong long.
There are also other superstitions in Vietnam to wear off bad luck like wearing lucky charms made from jade. But all in all the best method to cultivate good fortune is to do as many good deeds as you can.
Balut - fertilized duck egg embryo - also known as Hot vit lon, is a popular food Vietnamese use to get rid of bad fortune. The reason for this tradition can be explained by the name of the dish itself. The word “lon” in Vietnamese means “to reverse”, so you should only eat a balut to reverse your bad luck and not when you are lucky. Remember to only eat an odd number of eggs (1, 3, 5) and crush the eggshells when you’ve finished.
Check here for more exotic Vietnamese dishes.
In Vietnamese superstitions, people believe that their house comes with a history and negative or positive energy of their own. However, the owner can change that by changing the arrangement of their home and surrounding environment according to feng shui to harness lucky energy.
The feng shui color chart by elements
There are a total of five feng shui elements: earth, air, fire, wood, and metal. Just like the horoscope or zodiac sign, your element is also decided based on your year of birth. Both the paint color as well as furniture inside the house should be compatible with the owner’s elements. If your element is water, you should go for black or blue in combination with white or silver, which is associated with the purity of water, and avoid brown or yellow tone because water and earth are conflicting elements.
The door is one of the most important aspects of feng shui in your home
According to the law of feng shui, the door is a gateway for luck or misfortune to your home. You shouldn’t place any mirror opposite to the entrance because after a long day of working, seeing a shadow or reflection in the mirror as the first thing when you come home can create paranoia which can negatively affect homeowners’ mental health or make them suffer from nightmares, especially if you are a woman.
Building a bathroom behind the main door is also unwise, not only will it create bad fortunes for homeowners, but it is also believed to cause health issues related to kidney, stomach, memory loss or even fertility problems. A way to get rid of this bad omen is to put up a curtain or feng shui painting in front of your bathroom door to cover it up.
In an apartment complex, the door should not be placed opposite of the elevator because owners can feel like everyone is peeking inside their home, and the privacy of the family will be disturbed by outside energy.
In Vietnamese culture, numbers like 1, 6, 7, 8, 9 are thought of as lucky numbers. Particularly number 8, because the Chinese pronunciation of it sounds like the word “Phat” in meaning “wealth, prosperity”. However, many feng shui masters have said that 9 is the luckiest number, it represents completion, fulfillment, and achievement. No matter which number you multiply 9 with, the addition of digits in the result of the equation always returns to 9 (for example, 9 x 2 = 18 -> 1 + 8 = 9), symbolizing a complete circle of heaven and earth.
In feng shui law, your personal lucky number is calculated by adding the last two digits of your birth year together until you get a single digit. If you are a man, subtract 10 from the final result, and add 5 if you are a woman.
Your birth year is 1996, 9 + 6 = 15 -> 1 + 5 = 6
If you are male: 10 - 6 = 4 then your lucky number is 4
If you are female: 6 + 5 = 12 -> 1 + 2 = 3 then your lucky number is 3
Vietnamese also believe that a good combination of digits in their motorbike license plate or phone number can bring them good luck. They choose their numbers using a wide range of tools ranging from the year of birth, elemental/zodiac sign, or just a beautiful sequence of numbers, most notably quadruple eight and nine. Some wealthy businessmen would even go as far as paying millions to acquire a good number.
And there are more because every person, with their unique background, occupation, and experience will have their own superstition and ritual related to it. For example, the fishermen will remove the bones of the fish after finishing one side of the fish instead of turning it over as they believe this would turn over their boats. You can see more of these irrational beliefs in chopsticks-using manners and gift-giving etiquettes in Vietnam.
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Tet is more than just family gatherings, sticky rice cakes, and Li xi (lucky money). It is also about turning to a new page and having a fresh start for a new year. So there is no wonder why Vietnamese practice a lot of these superstitions in order to make sure that the transition from the old to the new year happens as smoothly as possible.
It is superstitious that cleaning should be finished before the new year's eve
Vietnamese believe that by cleaning the house during Tet, especially the first 3 days, they will sweep the good lucks and prosperity out of their home. These Vietnamese superstitions originated from two folk tales. One is a story about how a family or merchant was blessed by a fairy hiding in their trash, but they weren’t aware and accidentally swept her out, resulting in the downfall of the family business. The second story tells the tale of a Goddess who was responsible for cooking for Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor, King of the Heaven) but always tasted his meals first. When Ngoc Hoang found out about this act, he punished her by turning her into a broom and forced her to work all year long, only allowing her to rest in the first 3 days of Tet.
So when you’re visiting a friend’s family during Tet, make sure not to comment about their piled-up trash or help out with cleaning, as you will be throwing out their good fortune.
Your luck for the entire year depends on the first visitor
Keeping an eye on what or who enters the house is also just as important. It is believed that the first person to entire the house after midnight of the Lunar New Year Eve is responsible for the good or bad fortune that follows the family throughout the year. There are two main ways that the Vietnamese decide who will be the first person to set foot in their house on New Year's Eve.
The first option is to have the oldest person in the family be the home caller; this Vietnamese superstition comes from the view that the elders have accumulated a lot of good deeds, fortune, and knowledge in their long life and can share their longevity, peacefulness, and good fortune with the whole family. The second way is decided by the compatibility of the guest and the homeowner based on their age and zodiac signs. For example, people with the zodiac sign of the mouse should visit homeowners with signs of buffalo, dragon, monkey, and if people born in the year of the snake wouldn't be welcomed to visit a family whose head of the family is born in the year of the mouse.
This superstition in Vietnam is taken quite seriously, so be sure not to show up uninvited to people's houses on the first day of Tet or set foot in their home after New Year's Eve if your age is not compatible.
Other Dos and Don'ts during Tet.
Other taboos include wearing black or white, as these colors are associated with death and funeral; borrowing money during this time is also frowned upon. For more insights on, check our guide on what to expect in Vietnamese Tet.
Superstitious beliefs are everywhere on the planet and vary from all corners of the world. A large number of superstitions in Vietnam reflect the country’s rich history and diverse culture. Check out our Vietnam travel guide or our private tours if you wish to learn more about the traditions and customs of Vietnam.
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Hey your article is pretty cool. I'm visiting my Vietnamese friend's family and it is very important to know about this