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Vietnamese Funeral Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs

Death is an unavoidable part of life, and Vietnamese culture has its own customs, beliefs, and superstitions when it comes to death and funerals. Whether you're attending a Vietnamese funeral, organizing one, or just are curious about the customs, this article will provide an overview of Vietnamese beliefs and traditions regarding death, as well as what to expect when attending a Vietnamese funeral.

Vietnamese beliefs about death

A Vietnamese funeral is a very important event that is rooted in traditional beliefs and customs. In Vietnamese culture, death is seen as a natural part of life and not something to be feared or dreaded. Respect for elders and the deceased is of the utmost importance in Vietnamese culture, and funerals are an opportunity to show respect for the deceased.

Vietnamese funeral customs

Though there are no hard and fast rules around funeral customs, there are certain Vietnamese funeral traditions that are usually observed. After a death, there is typically a visitation. Visitations include an open casket and may last several days. Bodies can be cremated or buried in Vietnamese culture, it typically depends on the religion and preferences of the deceased and the family.

During the funeral service or memorial service, there is typically an altar at which offerings for the deceased are placed. These offerings include candles, incense, fruit, and other gifts.

(Note: In Vietnamese culture, odd numbers are typically considered to be lucky. Out of respect for this, you can light an odd number of incense or candles as part of your offering.)

Prayers, readings, and singing may be part of the service, depending on the religious affiliations and beliefs of the family.

Buddhist funeral beliefs

Many religious Vietnamese families are Buddhists. If you're attending a Buddhist funeral, you're likely to participate in different traditions, or to at least bear witness to them.

Common Buddhist funeral rituals include:

  • Cremating the deceased – cremation is the preferred method of disposition at a Buddhist funeral as the physical body is believed to hold little significance
  • The burning of incense at the altar of the deceased
  • Ringing bells and gongs
  • Singing or chanting different sutras (prayers)
  • Bringing offerings to the person who has passed away (such as incense, fruits, food, or candles)
  • Displaying photographs and memorabilia of the deceased for mourners to pay their respects (usually placed around an altar)

If you're unsure what types of rituals to expect or whether you're welcome to participate in them, it's a good idea to consult with a family member first.

Catholic funeral beliefs

Catholicism is another popular religion among Vietnamese families, and as such, the funeral for the deceased may follow common Catholic traditions. If you're attending a Catholic Vietnamese funeral, some traditions may include:

  • Catholics believe in both cremation and burial, though the Catholic church previously did not encourage their community to be cremated (this has since been changed).
  • Prayers led by a priest
  • Reciting the rosary
  • Lighting candles in remembrance of the deceased
  • Singing hymns and/or gospel songs

Funeral Masses usually follow the standard Catholic service; however, there may be readings or reflections based on the life and beliefs of the deceased.

Vietnamese funeral superstitions

In addition to the beliefs and customs associated with Vietnamese funerals, there are also some traditional superstitions and beliefs surrounding death that you may encounter while attending a funeral service. For example, white is typically seen as a color of mourning in Vietnam, so it's not uncommon for Vietnamese mourners and funeral attendees to wear white headbands or armbands.

Additionally, it's common for families to light a candle and offer prayers on the one-year anniversary of a death. This is seen as an important part of honoring the deceased and showing respect for their memory.

In Vietnam, there are also many traditional superstitions about death. For instance, some families believe that it's bad luck for the deceased to be buried on a full moon day, as well as during certain times of the year or during particular festivals or holidays. It's important to be aware of these superstitions and show respect for any such beliefs should you attend a Vietnamese funeral.

Other common questions about Vietnamese funerals

Below are some commonly asked questions around Vietnamese funeral traditions, customs, and beliefs.

What is the Vietnamese death anniversary?

Dam Gio, or the “Great Memory”, is a traditional Vietnamese death anniversary that is celebrated once a year to honor the memory of loved ones who have passed away. It's typically celebrated on the same day as the deceased's death. On Dam Gio, families often gather to share stories and memories of their lost loved ones, exchange gifts, and light incense in their honor.

Is it appropriate to send flowers to a Vietnamese funeral?

Yes, it is appropriate in Vietnamese culture to send funeral flowers as a gesture of sympathy. Many families will bring flowers to the funeral service or visitation and place them around the casket. It's important to be aware of the traditional superstitions surrounding death, however, so keep in mind cultural differences when selecting your flower. (For example, red is considered a color for happier and joyful occasions, so sending red flowers wouldn't be a good idea.) If you're worried about selecting the right arrangement, white flowers are generally a welcome sympathy gift at a Vietnamese funeral, especially the white lotus.

Send flowers

What should I wear to a Vietnamese funeral?

Most families would prefer that attendees dress in a respectful manner. Depending on the religious affiliations of the family, it's common to wear white or dark colors as a sign of respect and mourning. If the family is a traditional Buddhist family, it is common for them to wear white and for attendees to wear black or other dark colors. It is also important to make sure you don't wear any expensive clothing or accessories with bright colors, patterns, or logos. This is seen as disrespectful.

How long do Vietnamese funerals last?

The length of a Vietnamese funeral can vary. Generally, services will last around an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size and scope of the service.

What is the significance of 49 days at a Vietnamese funeral?

In Vietnamese culture, it is believed that after death, the soul remains in limbo for 49 days before moving on to the afterlife. During this time, families will gather together to offer prayers and offerings to the deceased. This period of mourning usually lasts 7 weeks (or 49 days). During these 49 days, the soul is on its journey into the afterlife.

Attending a funeral can be a stressful experience, especially if you're unsure of the cultural or religious traditions associated with it. The information above is intended to provide an overview of the customs and beliefs related to Vietnamese funerals, so that anyone attending can be better prepared for what to expect. Although death is an inevitable part of life, understanding its customs and beliefs can help to honor the memory of the deceased and show respect for their family.

Please note that the information provided here is just a general overview of Vietnamese funeral traditions, beliefs, and superstitions; it is important to be aware of any specific customs, preferences or beliefs associated with the funeral service you are attending.

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Last updated November 30, 2022
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