Traditions and customs of Vietnam

What traditions and customs are there in Vietnam?

A look at Southeast Asia with the customs and traditions of Vietnam.


Food in daily life

Rice is the staple of the diet that most people eat three times a day. Rice is usually consumed jointly by family members. The common practice is to prepare several dishes that are placed on a tray or table that people sit around. Individuals have small bowls filled with rice, and then take the food from the trays as well as the rice from their bowls with chopsticks.

The Vietnamese often accompany these main dishes with leafy vegetables and small bowls of savory sauces into which they dip their food. Popular dishes include stir-fried vegetables, tofu, a vegetable-based seafood broth called canh, and a variety of pork, fish, or meat dishes. A common ingredient for cooked dishes and dipping sauces is salt fish sauce (“nuoc mam”).

Another important family practice is to serve tea from a small pot with small cups to guests. Northern cuisine is known for its subtle flavors, Central cuisine for its spiciness, and Southern cuisine for its use of sugar and bean sprouts.

The diet varies according to wealth; the poor often have limited amounts of protein in their diets and some only have the means to eat rice with a few leafy vegetables at each meal.

Major cities have restaurants offering Vietnamese and international cuisine, but for most Vietnamese, food eaten away from home is taken from street stalls or small specialty one-dish shops. The most popular item is a noodle soup with a clear meat-based broth called pho. Many Vietnamese consider this as a national dish.

Other foods commonly eaten at these sites include other types of rice or wheat noodle soups, steamed sticky rice, rice porridge, sweet desserts, and “food for common people” (“com binh dan”), a selection of normal homemade dishes.

There are no universal food taboos among the Vietnamese, although some women avoid certain foods considered “hot,” such as duck, during pregnancy and in the first few months after childbirth. The consumption of certain foods has a gender dimension.

Dishes like dog or snake are considered men’s foods and are avoided by many women. Some minority groups have taboos on the consumption of certain foods considered sacred or impure.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

The consumption of food is a vital part of ritual celebrations. Historically, villagers held festivals after the performance of rites dedicated to the village’s guardian spirits, but revolutionary restrictions on resource consumption in these contexts have largely eliminated such festivals.

Parties after weddings and funerals are still big and have grown in size in recent years. The most popular dishes are pork, chicken and vegetables served with rice. Liberal amounts of alcohol are also served.

In the countryside, this often takes the form of locally produced smuggled rice booze, while in the cities the parties often include imported beer or spirits.

Parties are socially important because they provide a context through which people maintain good social relationships, whether through reciprocating previous party invitations or eating food together.

Other important occasions to celebrate are the anniversaries of the death of family ancestors and the beginning of the Lunar New Year or Tet. Many of the meals served on these occasions are similar, although the latter has some special dishes, such as a square of sticky rice, pork, and mung bean cake called banh trung.

These parties are comparatively smaller and, unlike weddings and funerals, are usually limited to family members or close friends.


Marriage is an expected rite of passage to reach adulthood. Almost everyone gets married, usually in their late teens or early 20s. Under Vietnamese law, arranged marriage and polygamy are illegal.

Young men can court freely, but many women are careful not to do it too openly for fear of developing a negative reputation. Many Vietnamese see the development of romantic love as an important component in the decision to marry, but many also balance family considerations in making their decision.

Vietnamese women prefer to marry someone of equal rank, although it is better if the husband has a slightly higher status. These considerations have become more important in recent years as wealth gaps have widened.

Vietnamese law allows both men and women to file for divorce. Divorce rates have increased, especially in urban areas, but many women are reluctant to divorce because they find it difficult to remarry.


Polite behavior is highly valued. One of the most important dimensions of courtesy is that young people show respect for their elders. In everyday life, young people show this respect by using hierarchical terms when interacting with their elders, and parents regularly instruct their children on their correct use.

Young people should also be the first to issue the same greeting when they meet someone older, they should always invite their elders to start eating before them, ask permission to leave the house, announce their arrival when they return, and not dominate conversations or speak in a conflictive way with their elders.

Pre-revolutionary practices required young people to bow to their elders, but the revolution has largely eliminated those practices. Many old men today feel that the revolution brought about a general decline in politeness.

People of the same sex often maintain close proximity in social contexts. Both men and women hold hands or sit close together. However, people of different genders, especially if they are not married or related, should not have physical contact.

In general, women are expected to maintain greater decorum than men by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, speaking quietly, and dressing modestly. In many public spaces, however, people often avoid queuing, resulting in a chaotic environment where people touch or press against each other as they go about their business.


Religious beliefs

The Vietnamese government recognizes six official religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and two indigenous religious traditions that emerged during the colonial period, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism is dominant in Vietnam, and more than 70 percent of Vietnamese consider themselves to be at least nominally Buddhist.

The Constitution technically allows for freedom of religion, but this right is often limited, particularly with respect to any religious activity that could become a forum for dissent.

All religious organizations are technically supervised by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front, but opposition, notably from the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and some Buddhist sects, has been present.

Aside from denominational variations, the core of religious practice for almost all Vietnamese is spirit worship. The most important spirits are the souls of the ancestors. Almost all families have altars in their houses where they perform rites for the ancestors of the family, especially on anniversaries of the deceased’s death and the Lunar New Year.

Many Vietnamese also perform or participate in rites for the guardian spirits of their village, spirits associated with specific places, spirits of deceased heroes, or the Buddha or different Bodhisattvas, particularly Avalokitesvara.

Some Vietnamese believe that spirits have the ability to bring good fortune and misfortune to human life. The revolutionaries strongly opposed this thinking because they felt that it prevented the Vietnamese from becoming masters of their own destinies.

Today, acceptance of ideas of supernatural causality is more common among women, while some men, particularly those with partisan or military backgrounds, reject such ideas.

Religious professionals

Each of the major religious traditions has its own set of practitioners, such as Christian priests, nuns and ministers, Buddhist monks and nuns, Islamic clerics, and priests of Cao Dai and Hao Hao. Vietnamese society also has spirit priests, Taoist masters, spirit mediums, fortune tellers, and astrologers.

The three ancient specialists have the ability to interact with the spirit world to learn the wishes of spirits and persuade or coerce them into behaving in particular ways. They are usually consulted to help cure disease in life or to end a pattern of misfortune.

Spirit priests and Taoist teachers are usually men who study religious texts to learn their specialty. Most mediums are women, many of whom become mediums after a crisis or eye-opening experience.

Fortune tellers and astrologers have the ability to predict the future. Fortune tellers make their predictions through a series of divinatory rites or by reading faces or palms. Astrologers make their calculations based on the relationship between the date and time of a person’s birth and a broader set of celestial phenomena.

Many people consult one of these last two specialists when planning a new venture, such as taking a trip or starting a business.

Rituals and sacred places

The most important ritual event in Vietnamese society is the Lunar New Year (“Tet Nguyen Dan”) celebration when families gather to welcome the arrival of the new year and pay their respects to the family’s ancestors.

The first and fifteenth of each month in the twelve-month lunar year are also important occasions for rites to ancestors, spirits, and Buddhist deities.

Other common days for rituals are death anniversaries of family ancestors, historical figures, or Buddhist deities; the fifteenth of the third lunar month when family members clean the ancestral tombs; and the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month, which is Vietnam Soul Day.

The Vietnamese perform rituals in a variety of sacred spaces. These include ancestral family shrines, lineage halls, a variety of shrines dedicated to the spirits, longhouses housing the shrines of the village’s guardian spirits, Buddhist temples or other affiliations, Christian churches, and mosques.

The country also has many shrines and temples that hold annual festivals that are attended by interested pilgrims and visitors, often from far away. Among the most famous are the Perfume Pagoda in the north, the Catholic La Vang shrine in the center, and the Cao Dai Temple in the south.

Death and the afterlife

The vast majority of Vietnamese hold that a person’s soul lives on after death. One of the most important moral obligations for the living, especially for the children of the deceased, is to hold a proper funeral that facilitates the movement of the soul from the world of the living to what the Vietnamese call “the other world” (“gioi khac »).

This transfer is vital because a soul that does not move to the other world is doomed to become a malevolent wandering ghost, while the soul that does move may become a benevolent ancestor of the family. There is great variation in the performance of funeral rites, but they share this common goal.

The other world is considered identical to that of the living. To live happily there, the dead depend on the living to provide them with necessities. At a minimum, this includes food, although some also send money, clothing, and other items.

Family members give these items through mortuary rituals, especially those held annually on the anniversary of the deceased’s death. All rituals associated with death have tremendous moral significance in Vietnamese society.

Secular celebrations

The socialist government of Vietnam has created a series of secular celebrations to glorify official history and values. Official holidays include: Labor Day (May 1), National Day (September 2), and Teacher’s Day (November 19).

Other important dates are War Disabled and Martyrs’ Day (July 27), and the anniversaries of the founding of the Communist Party (February 3), the birth of Ho Chi Minh (May 19) and the Revolution August (August 19). maybe the most

The sensitive official holiday of the Vietnamese people is Liberation Day (April 30), which commemorates the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. The importance of these dates is heavily promoted by the government, but financial constraints often make their celebration quite low-key.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The socialist government of Vietnam places a strong emphasis on the arts, particularly as it sees them as a primary vehicle for the propagation of socialist values. All major art forms such as theatre, literature, film and painting have state-controlled organizations that artists are encouraged, if not forced, to join.

The government sometimes severely limits the direction of artistic development through censorship, control of the printing press, and the presence of party members in arts organizations.

This has not prevented a minor artistic revival, especially in literature, since the late 1980s. Some artists find ways to insert critical messages into their work.

Many artists are struggling financially due to recent dramatic reductions in government subsidies for the arts, the absence of adequate copyright protection, and the fickle tastes of a public that sometimes prefers imported films, music, and literature.

Artists, especially painters, who may produce for expats or the tourist market, have the greatest freedom to ply their trade.


Vietnam has a vibrant literary tradition dating back many centuries. Mandarins and elite scholars of the pre-modern era composed sophisticated poetry. Many poems from earlier times, such as Nguyen Du’s The Story of Kieu or Nguyen Dinh Chieu’s Luc Van Tien, are considered masterpieces of literature.

Along with these traditions, the Vietnamese also maintained a rich oral legacy of songs, poems, and morality tales that people still recite today. Prose fiction became popular under colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century.

Writers of this time such as those of the “Self-sufficiency Literature Group” (“Tu Luc Van Doan”) developed the role of the author as a social critic. The socialist authorities kept the literature under tight control for several decades to ensure that it was in accordance with the officially prescribed “socialist realist” canon that described the virtues of the working class and the revolution.

Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has experienced a literary revival with the publication of numerous works critically presenting war and revolution and their consequences. The work of several of these authors, including Bao Ninh, Duong Thu Huong, and Nguyen Huy Thiep, has attracted an international audience.

Graphic arts

Various indigenous traditions of graphic art remain popular. These include lacquer, ink-block prints, and ceramics, all of which employ distinctive themes developed by Vietnamese artists. Historically, specialized families or towns have produced these items for local sale, although some items such as pottery were sold throughout the country and abroad.

The painting has become more popular in urban areas since the colonial period. All of these forms are exhibited in museums and, with the exception of paintings, are sold in local markets as well as galleries or shops in major cities.

Performing arts

The most popular performing arts in Vietnam have historically been a variety of musical theater traditions, all of which continue to be performed by government-organized companies. Major forms included the courtly tradition of classical opera (“hat tuong”); the reformist theater (“hat cai luong”); an innovative tradition that emerged in the Mekong Delta in the early 20th century; and the “hat cheo”, a popular rural tradition.

The above tradition has been in decline for several decades. Reformed theater is popular in the south, and hat cheo in the north. Most performances take place in theaters, usually in urban areas. Companies struggle financially and act less frequently than before the revolution. The French introduced Western theater to Vietnam, but its popularity has never matched that of musical theater.

Musical performances, whether in traditional musical forms or contemporary popular music, are also popular. Radio and television have become a common way to listen to or watch the full range of performing arts.

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