VietnamCulture and HistoryVietnamese Funeral Customs

Vietnamese Funeral Customs

In many Orient countries, the funeral is deemed one of the most important events of a lifetime since Eastern people hold a belief that there is an afterlife where the dead ones continue their lives. One purpose of the funeral is to show respect to the one who passed away. Another purpose is to prepare well for his or her afterlife. In this blog, we will show you standard practices of Vietnamese funeral customs and what you can do to show respect to the family if you happen to attend a Vietnamese funeral.

There are different practices across the country since there are 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam. However, Vietnamese funeral customs include some of the points below.

Vietnamese Funeral Costume

Vietnamese funeral costumes are white clothes with a white headband. These clothes are made of fragile gauze textiles, so the dead person’s family wears them over their regular clothes. You might notice that at a funeral, some people wear white headbands with the clothes, and others just wear white headbands. Whether you should wear the complete costume or not depends on your relationship with the dead person. If you are his or her direct families (immediate family), such as husband or wife, sibling, son, daughter, or grandchildren, you should wear a white headband and white clothes. If you are just a relative, you only wear a white headband.

vietnamese funeral customs costume

Vietnamese Funeral Customs – Rituals to the Deceased and the Wake

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 has been significantly simplified compared to that in the old times. 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.

The wake

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 for the dead person. The wake may last for three to five days, and then comes the funeral procession.

Attending a Vietnamese funeral

(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, more extraordinary 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.

vietnamese funeral customs attending vietnamese funeral burn incense
When attending a Vietnamese funeral, first go to the main altar to burn incense and pray for peace to the deceased

vietnamese funeral customs attending vietnamese funeral guests tables envelops
Envelops are provided at guests’ tables for them to donate money to the deceased’s family, helping with the funeral hefty costs

Vietnamese Funeral Procession

The funeral procession is the most essential step of the funeral. The date and the time of the funeral procession must be carefully selected and often based on the consultation of an experienced fortune-teller. In Vietnamese funeral customs, the family’s eldest son 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.

Read more: Vietnamese family values

vietnamese funeral customs procession
The funeral procession often led by the eldest son of the deceased

vietnamese funeral customs funeral hearse

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.

The burial

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 three days and the next 46 days, which is 49 days in total, the family will bring a 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.

The cremation

In recent years, some urban families have decided to cremate their deceased instead of burying them in the cemetery, which is usually far from the city center. The ash is kept in a container, placed in a pagoda, and taken care of by the monks, making it more convenient for families to make regular visits.

Annual death ceremony

Above are the Vietnamese funeral customs. Depending on how high the deceased’s position in the family hierarchy is, family members have to keep honoring his or her death for up to three years. There is an annual death anniversary when the family invites relatives and close friends to join a party in memory 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.

Funeral Customs of Vietnamese Christians

Most Vietnamese follow Buddhist beliefs (though not necessarily being 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: 7 times for a man and 9 times for a woman. As in the prevalent custom, the deceased is bathed and well-dressed. A priest reads an opening statement. 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.

Despite many rituals and customs, the Vietnamese are hospitable and understanding, especially if you are a foreign friend attending the ceremony. Here are some simple things you can do to share condolences with the mourning family:

  • Offer incense at the altar. You might see some people kneel before the casket, but you don’t have to copy. Simply put your hands together and slightly bow after offering the incense.
  • It’s customary for the locals to put money into envelopes to help with the funeral costs. However, you can also choose to bring a fruit basket or flowers.
  • Families might serve food, tea, and even alcohol to treat the guests. You can feel free to join the meal and try some food.

Summary of Vietnamese Funeral Customs

Nowadays, although the funeral customs are simplified, it is still a significant ceremony. Funerals in Vietnam culture can be quite costly since the majority of Vietnamese still hold a belief that the soul exists after death and they always try to prepare everything for a wealthy afterlife.

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