Death Anniversary in Vietnam – A Custom Of Vietnamese People
Most of the Vietnamese families celebrate death anniversaries every year. Death anniversary in Vietnam is a ceremony offering rice to a dead person’s soul. Most of the Vietnamese people believe that after passing away, human beings still exit soul parts. They think alive people eat and drink, either dead people’s soul does. Therefore, every year, they hold death anniversaries to invite their dead family members’ souls to come back home to enjoy delicious foods and drinks as well as meet alive members.
Meaning of Death anniversary in Vietnam
If in the West, birthdays are important, in the East, death anniversaries are important. Death Anniversary in Vietnam shows “Uong nuoc nho nguon” (drink water remember the source) spirit. It’s a chance for family members and neighbors to gather in a year.
What to do on Vietnamese death anniversary?
People usually prepare for a death anniversary some months before the day. They raise cows, pigs, chickens and ducks. Death anniversary happens for two days.
On the first day, all family members and neighbors gather to prepare for the second day – the main day of the anniversary. In the morning men slaughter cows, pigs, clean tables and chairs, arrange fruits and flowers on altars. Women slaughter chickens, ducks and cook many delicious main dishes and cakes. The atmosphere is really warm, busy and exciting. In the afternoon, foods are placed on altars and tables. In front of the house, there is a tray for homeless souls. In the house, there is a tray for gods supporting land and house. The other trays are for ancestors and the dead person’s soul. After finishing arranging everything, the person having the highest position in the family stands in front of the main altar, pours wine, burns incenses and prays to invite the dead person’s soul and ancestors back to enjoy the death anniversary. In the ceremony, the head of the family pours wine more twice and pour tea three times. Everybody waits until the incenses burn out. It’s time for everybody to sit around tables and enjoys some foods and drinks. They talk to each other and laugh happily. In the evening, everybody eats rice soup (Vietnamese congee with chicken or duck). They also sing karaoke or play cards freely until midnight.
On the next day, the death anniversary happens more solemnly than on the first day. There are more guests and far relatives. They usually come with wine, fruits, cakes or anything as a gift. Those offerings are placed on the altars. At the beginning of the ceremony, the children and grandchildren stand seriously in front of the main altar. After pouring wine, burning incenses and praying to invite the dead person’s soul and ancestors back to enjoy the party, the head of the family talks about good characters of the dead person’s soul. Then the children and grandchildren kneel and kowtow the souls.
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After all, everybody is served lots of foods. While eating and drinking, everyone usually talks about the dead person, relative relationships, business, marriage. Thank to this occasion, the alive people learn good characters of the dead person, the young recognize relatives, business becomes more effective, boys and girls understand each other more clearly. The anniversary finishes, the relatives and guests come back home with some “It” cakes or “Chung” cakes offered by the host.
In South Vietnam, they usually make “It” cakes and “Tet” cakes to gift people who are invited to the Death Anniversary.
How to arrange the altar on death anniversary?
The ancestor altar should be arranged properly on death anniversary in Vietnam. On normal days, there should be two incense burners, two candle holders, a vase of flowers, a tray of fruits. On the death anniversary, the flowers and fruits should be the most beautiful, smelling and freshest. Small glasses of tea and wine, rice bowls, chopsticks, plates and bowls of delicious dishes are offered to ancestors and the dead person. The kerosene lamp should be lit. Traditionally, Vietnamese people use a lacquer wooden cabinet as the ancestral altar and hang a colorful panel behind the altar.
What to eat on the death anniversary?
Depending on the family’s economic condition, the anniversary is big or small. Death anniversaries of grandparents and great grandparents are bigger than others. Rich families slaughter cows and pigs, poor families slaughter chickens and ducks.
In Vietnam, they cook Braised duck with curry, Braised pork leg, Chicken congee, Hot pot, Grilled beef in wild betel, Grilled beef and fat, Vietnamese pork roll, Vietnamese head cheese, Stir-fried beef (or deer) with, Seafood soup, Pork organs congee, Fried rice, Steamed shrimp with coconut water, Stuffed bitter melon with pork, Braised pork and egg. The main dishes are usually served with bean sprouts, lettuce, herbs, Pickles (from carrot, daikon, mustard greens).
Families in South Vietnam usually make “It” cakes and “Tet” cakes. “It” cake is a pyramid sticky rice cake filled with green bean paste or coconut meat and sugar. “Tet” cake is a cylindrical sticky rice cake filled with banana, green bean paste and pork belly. Families in North Vietnam usually make “Chung” cakes (square glutinous rice cakes filled with green bean paste and pork belly). The cakes are usually made on the first day, served to guests on the same day and the next day. They are also gifted to guests after the feasts.
Watermelons, longans, mangoes are popular fruits that are chosen carefully, arranged and offered to the ancestors and death people on Vietnamese death anniversaries. They are also served to the guests.
Candies are not offered to ancestors and the dead person but usually served to guests before and after the feast. They like eating candies while drinking some tea.
What to wear on Death anniversary?
If you are invited to a Death anniversary, you may wonder what to wear. It is true that we should choose appropriate clothes to the anniversary to show respect to the death person and his/her family. Certainly, your dress should not be sexy, too short or too long, colorful or twinkle. Shorts, tank tops, off-the-shoulder dresses are not recommended. Dresses are ok but they should not shorter than your knees. Trousers, shirts, T-shirts, blouses are recommended. High heels are ok.
What to bring to Death anniversary?
Guests should bring something to Death anniversary. My recommendations are Baskets of fruits, Combo baskets or package of tea, wine, cakes, nuts, Cookie and biscuit gift boxes. Baskets of fruits can be bought at local markets and fruit stores. The others are sold popularly at supermarkets, markets and many stores on the streets. I have seen many guests bring one or more bottles of wines or other alcoholic beverages. The cost of the gift is from 200,000 to a few million VND.