Vietnamese Mourning customs


   When the   loved  family member is dying .

Some tips must be done:

 -  Suggestion of  a new good name:

 The eldest child suggests a name for the dying person for it is considered unfortunate to continue the same name used in life after the relative has died. Men usually take the name "Trung" which means faithfulness or  loyalty. Women are usually called "Trinh" which means devotion or "Thuan" which means harmony.

 - Preparation for  the  incoming  funeral and  religious service  according to the religion of the dying person

After the Death

 Many  funeral rites  are performed:

   1-Lễ phục hồi  (call upon the soul of the dead to return to the body).

They place a chopstick between the teeth of the deceased and place the body on a mat on the floor in an effort to "bring it back to life". The next rite in this tradition is for the eldest son or daughter to take a shirt the deceased has worn in life and to wave it in the air and call upon the soul of the dead to return to the body.

- It's time for the death  to be  announced, and the funeral gets under way shortly after.The funeral may be held within the home

    2-  Lễ mộc dục  (the ceremonial cleansing of the body).

They wash the body with a heavily scented lotion and dress it in the best clothing.  The body is cleaned and dressed carefully so that it looks presentable.The corpse is bathed which symbolizes washing off the dust of the terrestrial world; hair is combed and nails clipped Nails are cut and the trimmings are placed in small packages and attached to the proper hand and foot from which they were cut. Then the body is generally placed on a bed under a mosquito net. In some areas, a bunch of bananas are placed on the stomach of the dead person with the hope of distracting the devil from devouring the dead personís intestines. Sometimes a knife is placed on the stomach as a weapon against the devil.

     3- Lễ phạn hŗm: (dropping rice  and coins )

The  chopstick was laid between the teeth and a pinch of rice and three coins were dropped in the mouth. Money, gold and rice are placed in the mouth of the dead to indicate that the deceased has left this world without want or hunger.
Lễ kh‚m liệm nhập quan: ( placed in the coffin)

The body is laid on a grass mat spread on the ground  to be  wrapped with strips of white cloth and a white silk shroud and then it is placed in the coffin.  It is wedged in the coffin with reed branches, paper, and other objects.

    5-Lễ thiết linh: (setting up the altar with the picture of the deceased )

Providing food for ancestors and other spirits is general practice in many Vietnamese ceremonies.

An altar is set up in the room as a small memorial  with a picture of the deceased along with flowers and burning incense.

The family  members then gather before the altar and make offerings of food for the dead personís soul. This usually is three bowls of rice, three cups of tea, and a few other special dishes. In North Vietnam, it may be different--one bowl of rice, one cup of water, a boiled egg, and a bundle of joss sticks planted in a bowl of uncooked rice and surrounded by lightened candles. This ceremony is supposed to be repeated three times a day during the entire mourning period.

   6-Lễ thŗnh phục:  ( distribution of the mourning  garb)

Le thanh phuc is officially performed. Buddhist monks are invited to chant the ritual incantations. The ceremony of distribution of the mourning garb is carried out by monks or the eldest son of the deceased who leads the rite. In the north, a trio of musicians is hired to play traditional funeral music for two days. The deceased personís sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law have to wear coarse gauze turbans and tunics, and hats made of straw or of dry banana fiber. The deceased personís grandchildren and relatives also had to wear mourning turbans. Family members wear white headbands and each of the deceasedís daughters wears a white muslin veil covering most of her body. The mourning garb is made of a very low grade white gauze and looks as if it may fall off of the person wearing it.

During the days when the dead were still laid out at home, the mourning went on with worshipping meals and mourning music. Musicians must be hired .  They play wind and  string  instruments which produce a soul sound.   A prayer service is held in the home where the loved one died. Offerings are made and symbolic votive papers are burned.

Only after the distribution of mourning garb do the presentations of condolences begin. At this time, relatives,  neighbours,  and friends came to offer their condolences. They may bring or send gifts to the deceasedís family as an offering to the dead member. Sometimes in rural areas, this gift consists of incense and money for the family. Wreaths have begun to be popular in the cities. They write the name of the person sending them is large letters, and a sympathy message is written on a ribbon encircling the wreath 



   6-  Lễ an t Šng  (Funeral procession)

Members of the family gather to  form a honor guard around the clock until a propitious time for burial is selected They arranged the funeral procession, according to complex customs. The date and time for the funeral procession, must be carefully selected.  Finally, After two days of the death ,the funeral ceremony was officially performed.

A Buddhist monk, lead the procession. He is usually followed by a group of old ladies carrying long pieces of cloth above their heads. Banner carriers move alongside of them reciting prayers and holding up their banners written about the deceased, for all to read. Next comes the altar, also borne by carriers. On it will be placed a picture of the deceased, two peanut oil lamps, candlesticks, incense burners, and flowers . Finally, the huge ten-foot high hearse painted with many dragons and other figures is used to carry  the body of the deceased .After the hearse, the family, led by the eldest son, relatives, usually walking. Traditionally, the procession walks on foot behind the coffin. Turbans are carelessly wrapped around the head with straw crowns and a sash placed on top of this. Mourners use walking sticks made of bamboo and act as though they are groping their way along and would fall without the stickís support. The carelessness of dress and the groping walk are indications of how overcome the mourners are . Any daughters or daughters-in-law walk immediately behind the catafalque with heads bowed to touch its edge, while the eldest son walks backwards barefoot in front of the deceased. The family is always crying loudly and lamenting in loud tearful voices with their praise of the dead person, his virtues, and his accomplishments. Sometimes they cry over what they might have done for the deceased.

Their voices, mixed in with the music from the professional musicians playing wind and string instruments and trumpets produce a soulful sound. Musicians must be hired  behind this group, remaining fairly silent, exchanging a few words here and there about the life of the dead person. Along the route, golden votive papers are scattered as symbolic money for the dead person to use in heaven. When the body reaches its resting place and is about to be placed in the grave, the wailing and crying grows even more soulful, and close relatives often fight frenziedly with the bearers of the coffin to prevent them from burying their loved one.

Relatives, friends, descendants and  acquaintances take part in the funeral procession to accompany the dead along the way to the burial ground. Votive papers were dropped along the way. At the grave site, the body is lowered into the ground. Incense is burned and respects are paid to other relatives who have passed away and are buried in the same cemetery. This can help the family to say goodbye to the loved one, as it helps them see that the deceased is in the company of other ancestors who have passed away.  When the coffin is buried the eldest son, the monk, or funeral attendants throw a symbolic handful of dirt into the grave and then pass on their respects to the rest of the family. Relatives leave the grave but wait a short distance away until the grave is completely covered before they go home.

Following the funeral,  In rural areas, the custom of preparing a large meal for all friends and acquaintances who have participated in the funeral or sent a gift is still followed.


The time  after the funeral

Vignette extraite de DerriŤre la haie de bambous de Vink - ed. du Lombard, Bruxelles, 1983

Regular ceremonies are held for the dead person:

Incense is burned for three days after the funeral, flowers are brought and prayers are spoken for the deceased.

     - Lễ tạ mộ ( visiting the tomb)

The family visits the tomb again after three days of mourning, This ceremony is also  held especially on the death anniversary, the lunar New Year Period (Tet) and often on the 1st and 15th days of each lunar month.

    -Lễ chung tất after 49 days,

The family  members have gathered  before the altar and made offerings of food for the dead personís soul  during the entire mourning period  so far. But after the celebration of Lễ chung tất, they stops bringing rice to the altar for the dead

 -   - "tot khoc", or the end of the tears after 100 days

After 100 days, the family celebrates tot khoc, or the end of the tears.

    - Lễ  Giỗ  (anniversary of the relativeís death after one year)

Once per week, over a period of 49 days, a memorial service is given to further help the family grieve and remember the deceased. A second  memorial service is then held 100 days after the death, then another memorial service is held one full year after the death. Families normally have a special dinner on the 49th and 100th day after the death and also on the first anniversary. They may have a dinner every year after that on the death anniversary.

   - Lễ  đoạn tang ( the end of mourning) after three years.

    - Lễ bốc mộ ( the body is exhumed ) generally after three years or later :

The bones are cleaned and re-arranged in proper order in a small earthenware coffin, or box for final burial. Only relatives and close friends are in attendance, and no special social gathering is held. In the north, the remains are then exhumed and reburied in a small shrine as their final resting place. Both in the north and south, the position of the grave is determined by geomancy.


Mourning Clothing and Prohibitions

  -Mourning Clothing

During the period of mourning, descendants wear special mourning clothing. These garments are made of crepe of ample cut with a seam in the middle of the back. All are required to cover their heads Family members are not allowed to wear brightly colored clothing. A black band is worn on the arm by men in mourning and a small black piece of material is worn on the dress of women mourners after the funeral for the entire mourning period  if  they go to work in the government offfces During subsequent memorial services for the deceased, family members may wear black or white fabric signifying that they are in mourning. The grieving period for immediate family is generally three years.


They were not permitted to comb their hair nor have a haircut, nor eat good food . While in mourning, Vietnamese do not usually visit temples and pagodas, festivals, parties, and other  entertainments. The mourning period is three years for wives, children, daughter-in-laws, and adopted children of the deceased man and only one year for husbands, son-in-laws, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren of the deceased woman. The mourning period is nine months for cousins on the fatherís side, and five months by cousins on the motherís side.

Depending on the relationship to the deceased and how close they were, a family member may not marry or make any other major life decisions for three years following the death of the loved one. They normally delay marriages.  Custom dictates that the wedding must be postponed until the end of the mourning period.  A mandarin had to resign his position and retire to his home. conduct memorial ceremonies.


  -If there is a wedding planned in the family, it should be quietly attended to before the ceremony of handing out the mourning clothes.

-Nowadays, mourning ceremonies follow new rituals which are simplified; they consist of covering and putting the dead body into the coffin, the funeral procession, the burial of the coffin into the grave, and the visits to the tomb. The deceased personís family members wear a white turban or a black mourning band. The foregoing ceremony relates only to the Vietnamese ĎKinhí majority. Minority ethnic groups have many different practices, sometimes extremely complex.

  Click Tang Chế to read