Celebrating life events is something I just love to do! I’ve always felt that if you have the bandwidth to recognize cultural traditions through celebrations, you should absolutely go for it. As a first generation Vietnamese American, I’m the first to admit that some of my traditions aren’t quite “by the book”. Often times my family’s customs have become adaptations that mesh both cultures together. Either way, we always figure out a way to have a bash that nods to our heritage and brings our family and friends together. Here is a peek into my Vietnamese Engagement Ceremony, known as Lễ Đám Hỏi. This special moment was captured by our photographer, Susannah Gill. All opinions expressed here are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.
A few months prior to the event, I took down Ao Dai (Vietnamese dress) measurements for my bridesmaids, fiancé, and myself. My mom coordinated with a family friend living in Vietnam to select the fabric and find a seamstress to make the outfits. I created an inspiration document with plenty of pictures, examples, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best! Several months later, we got the ao dais’ back and tried them on. Much to my amazement, the measurements (except for one pant error) seemed to work out really well! I created a PDF document that I would be happy to email to you if you ever need to submit measurements.
The air was abuzz with excitement as my bridesmaids and I get ready for the ceremony. Our friends and family pitched in to help with the set up of furniture, cook– and even create lovely flower arrangements. My brother’s cat Squid sat comfortably in the room with all of the girls and he made himself a little nest on top of one of the ao dais.
Red and gold are considered lucky colors, and our engagement ceremony was rightfully decorated in that theme. Our altar held incense, flowers, and symbolic offerings of food. My fiancé and I also happen to be born as dragons in the same zodiac year. In Vietnamese culture, dragons are particularly coveted because children born as so are supposedly wise and lucky. You might notice my fiancé and I are wearing coordinating dragon ao dais (courtesy of a very excited Momma Le) for this very reason.
As the bride to be, I took my post tucked away in the back bedroom. My parents and grandma took their positions in the living room, right near the front door to welcome the groom’s family and guests inside. My procession of bridesmaids and family lined up on the steps near the front door. My fiance’s procession of groomsmen, friends, and family lined up on the sidewalk, carrying symbolic gifts of dowry on trays with decorated red silk overlays. The other party guests stood outside, anticipating the curious spectacle of our modern American approach to this antiquated Vietnamese ritual.
The fiance’s procession initiated the ceremony by walking single file from the sidewalk to our doorway and lining up next to the corresponding person from my side. My younger cousin stood awaiting his cue, lighter in hand next to a string of Vietnamese firecrackers waiting for both parties to pass the trays. Once both lines were in sync, the groom’s side passed the trays over to the bride’s side to represent the passing of the dowry from one family to another. The firecrackers were lit, and the next 60 seconds were filled with an ear-splitting, slightly dangerous, red-paper-flying, experience that made eyes water and ears covered.
Once the guests were squeezed inside of the house, my mother and sister presented me to my fiance. My uncle spoke lovely words welcoming the guests, introduced the family members on each side, and we began lighting incense and bowing to pay respect to our deceased ancestors. It is customary for parents of the bride or groom to gift the bride-to-be with a personal effect, such as a necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings. My mother in law adorned me with darling red studs that matched perfectly with my ao dai. This was such an emotional moment for the two of us! I let out a few happy tears and we hugged tightly with huge smiles on our faces. The tea ceremony quickly followed suit, and my fiancé and I poured tea for our honored elders and parents.
The ceremony wrapped up with a few more words of thanks from my dad. It felt so wonderful sharing this piece of my tradition with my fiancé and his family. All of the work we had put into planning, creating ao dais, and coordinating details was well worth it… I was elated. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying Vietnamese food and each other’s companies.
(Drool-worthy) Buffet Menu
- Lotus Root Salad with Jelly Fish, Shrimp, and Pork – Gỏi Ngó Sen tôm, thịt, sứa
- Spring Rolls – Gỏi cuốn
- Egg Rolls (Shrimp, Vegetarian) – Chả giò tôm thịt – Chả giò chay
- Steamed Rice Flour Cakes with Shrimp – Bánh bèo
- Grilled Lemon Grass Chicken – Gà nướng xả
- Vegetable fried rice – Cơm chiên
- Mushroom and Vegetable Stir Fry – Món Xào Chay
- Asparagus Crab Soup – Súp Măng Cua
- Crispy Roast Pork – Heo Quay
- Steamed bun – Bánh bao
- Red Sticky Rice – Xôi gấc
- Sweet Dessert Soup / Pudding – Chè
- Pandan Jelly and Mung Bean Cake – Bánh Xu Xê