Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Vietnamese funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Hungarian funeral traditions and Slovak funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Vietnamese Religious and Death Beliefs
As of 2014, 73.2% of Vietnam’s population identifies with the Vietnamese folk religion, followed by Buddhism at 12.2%. The Vietnamese folk religion is described as “a set of local worship traditions devoted to the [gods].”
Depending on religious beliefs, many Vietnamese people believe that souls live on after death. They also believe they must have a proper funeral, so they can enter the afterlife. If they don’t, their ghost will stay on Earth and can cause harm to their family. To prepare them for the afterlife, they leave out food, money, clothes, and other offerings.
Traditional Vietnamese Funeral
A traditional Vietnamese funeral involved several elaborate rituals, especially for the wealthy. The wake was an almost week-long celebration or even longer if relatives lived far away. They washed and dressed the body in traditional clothing to prepare for burial. They also put rice and three coins in the deceased’s mouth along with a chopstick between their teeth.
The deceased’s family also created an altar, so the body stayed at home for a week to several months. Then, family and friends paid their respects and brought offerings such as flowers, money, and food. They also burned incense or paper money.
Typically, there was a burial at a cemetery or the family’s property. The funeral procession was an elaborately planned event with musicians playing gongs and drums. At the burial ceremony, everyone celebrated with food, drinks, music, and prayers.
Modern-Day Vietnamese Funeral
Today, a Vietnamese funeral is a similar but simpler occasion. The preparation of the body usually just involves covering the body rather than the traditional rituals. The wake also only lasts a few days rather than weeks. There’s still a procession to the cemetery, but it’s not as elaborately planned as traditional processions.
There’s a 49-day mourning period where mourners wear black or white to symbolize their mourning. Widows also shouldn’t re-marry during this time. The deceased’s family visits the grave and leaves flowers, incense, and other offerings. They also have annual celebrations on the death anniversary to honor and remember the deceased.