Asian culture brings a beautiful combination of respect for tradition and honor for the family of an individual and society in which they live. Within varied Asian communities, there are many things that make engagements and weddings unique. The wedding tea ceremony is one of these special events and can play an important role in uniting two families, from Chinese to Japanese to Vietnamese.
Today, we’d like to speak to our Vietnamese couples (once you have your engagement ring on that very special finger)! Whether one or both of you come from a Vietnamese background, we hope that this is helpful as you begin the research building a timeline for a Vietnamese tea ceremony. Depending on your specific background and family traditions, some of these wedding festivities may vary, but will still help to give you a starting point.
In Vietnamese society, the tea ceremony or “Le Dinh Hon” (also referred to as “Dam Hoi”) symbolically recognizes the event where a groom and his family have decided to proceed in marriage.
As you may already know, it is a pinnacle of the passage to marriage by bringing together families for the first time in a formal way. In many scenarios, this helps to kick off the beginning of the wedding festivities by recognizing the engagement in a special way.
Traditions will vary from one region to the next as well as one family to the next. Before you begin making your plans, take some time to ask your spouse-to-be the following questions to figure out how similar your views may be on a Vietnamese tea ceremony and the role that it will play in your engagement.
Is a Vietnamese tea ceremony important to you and/or your family?
If there were three things that were important to you about a tea ceremony, what would it be?
Are there any areas of a tea ceremony where you may want to challenge tradition and take a more customized or modern approach?
Are there any important things to be aware of, from the length of travel of family members to food or drink preferences?
The answers may impact how big or small of a role that the ceremony will play in your varied wedding-related celebrations. General planning logistics include:
Timing: A tea ceremony is held between one year to one month prior to the day of the wedding. However, some or all parts could be done the same day of the wedding. Depending on the logistics, couples may opt to do this all on the same day since families are already coming together (and may be traveling from faraway places). If you decide to combine your tea ceremony and wedding on the same weekend or day, there are a few different ways this could be planned. (More on that later!)
Location: A Vietnamese tea ceremony typically takes place in the home of the bride or of her family. There will need to be enough room for both families and key representatives of either side to be able to mingle, as well as take photos and drink or eat. If the space doesn’t allow for enough room for a large enough crowd, it might be held at a more neutral event space (especially if there would be too much travel involved.) If the event is held on the actual wedding day, it could also be at, or nearby, the event space.
Décor: It’s most common to decorate the space in bright colors and lush floral arrangements. Like other Asian cultures, red is considered lucky in Vietnam can be leveraged throughout décor. It is common to have an archway above the entrance signaling that an engagement party is taking place. This vibrant setting will showcase the celebratory nature involved with bringing together two families in love and in legacy.
Attire: According to DoneGeeMedia, “Ao Dai is the traditional Vietnamese garment often made of silk with various patterns and embroidery. Typically, the bride’s dress will be much more extravagant and detailed than her bridesmaids or the groom. There is also a headpiece called the Khan Dong for special occasions. If your family or guests are also wearing an Ao Dai, the Khan Dong will help single out the couple as the bride and groom.”
Now that you know what’s important to your significant other and have a few of the initial logistics in mind, here are our tips for building a timeline for a a Vietnamese tea ceremony. Let’s first break down the order of events.
Understanding The Basics of The Symbolic Traditions
In general, these are the key building blocks, in the order that they typically occur.
The Procession: In planning for Vietnamese weddings today, there isn’t typically a formal step to request a hand in marriage (although, this used to be more common). The next important step to initiate the event will be the procession. When planning a Vietnamese tea ceremony, the groom and his family makes their way to the home of the bride’s family (or event space where this is taking place.) The groom’s parents lead the way and then the groom, followed by the men on the groom’s side.
In most cases, these men will be carrying trays or traditional boxes. This is for the beginning of the ceremony which includes the exchange of gifts. Everything begins with the knock on the door of the home by a representative of the groom’s family to ask for permission to come in.
According to a website called Vietnam Travel:
“The future groom’s family and friends will prepare gifts as dowry. Traditionally, these gifts are betel and areca leaves, wine, Green tea, fruits, traditional cakes, tobacco, a roasted pig and jewelry. The gifts are contained in amount of lacquer boxes, called mâm quả in Vietnamese, that are covered in red paper or cloth and carried by the younger unmarried men of the future groom’s family. The amount of each gift is even (with the exception of the roasted pig) while the amount of boxes is odd. In Vietnamese culture, odd numbers and red color symbolize luck and wealth for the young couple. The larger number of gifts are, the more significant amount of wealth is displayed. Traditionally the groom’s family and close friends will make their way from their home to the bride’s house. There, the groom’s representative, usually the elderly family member, will knock on the bride’s door and ask for permission to come in. Once the bride’s family has agreed, the bridesmaids will line up outside of the house to await the groomsmen and receive the lacquer boxes.”
While gifts are very common (but not mandatory), this is an important topic to discuss expectations of your significant other in advance to make sure you’re on the same page.
The Welcome: After the gifts are exchanged, they are placed in a visible location (usually a beautiful table in the center of the room) so that guests can see them. Once the members of the groom’s party have all made their way in and the gifts are in place, there are handshakes and greetings.
A representative of the bride’s family welcomes all the guests and briefly introduces members of the family. A request for the bride’s presence is then made, which is when she will appear for the first time. Once the bride appears, the couple may light incense together as they ask for ancestral blessings. The couple may follow this with a bow to their parents and then towards one another.
The Tea Ceremony: Now that the couple is together and initial formalities have taken place, it’s time for tea! And surprise…a tea ceremony doesn’t have to include tea. Families may also fill the teapot with an alcoholic beverage. (It will be important to align on this ahead of time to make sure that the families are aligned on the approach.)
The couple will receive the tea tray and pour themselves tea in two small cups. Then they offer the tea to their family members, starting with the eldest. This is how the bride and groom show their respect and gratitude toward their families.
After the tea is consumed, there could be an additional presentation of gifts from other family members and kind words of encouragement.
The Portraits: All family members will line up and pose for formal photos. This is one of our favorite parts of the day (obviously!) because the vibrant clothing coming together in one frame helps to magnify the respect and honor of the culture.
This is likely the first time that both sides of the families will come together so we always make sure to capture different settings of the families represented, such as some of just the bride and her family and the groom and his family. This is also a great opportunity to get special photographs of the couple in love.
The Lunch and What Comes Next: After the tea ceremony and photos which follow, a meal is shared amongst all the guests. This can be a more relaxed time where the couple is able to enjoy the company of those closest to them. By the end of this event, the bride’s family typically returns half of the gifts to show their appreciation before everyone departs.
What happens next will be determined by whether you’ve decided to host the tea ceremony before the wedding. If it’s on its own day or the weekend leading up to the wedding, then all guests are free to do what they please afterwards. This could be a time where the bride and groom part ways to spend more time with their side of the bridal party, or they could do something fun all together.
If you have decided to host this on the same day as your wedding, you could then depart to separate locations and begin a ‘getting ready’ phase of the wedding day. You might have shorter windows of time since you’re already more than mid-way through the day so make sure you’re considering all the logistics as you plan your wedding day timeline. (And build in an appropriate of time for required travel between locations, outfit and hair or makeup changes, as well as time to just breathe!)
Building The Timeline
If you choose to have your tea ceremony followed by a wedding reception, one of the smoothest schedules begins the day with a tea ceremony in the late morning. You could then have lunch with your guests and take break before the rest of the wedding festivities.
Depending on preference, either increase the time of your break and have cocktails before a wedding reception or truncate the timeline so that you can have a western wedding ceremony in between the tea ceremony and reception.
While this could make for a long day, you will first get the official blessing on the marriage from the families with a meaningful moment of closure on your engagement season, which transitions nicely into to the wedding-day events. Here’s a sample 12-hour timeline for how each of these activities can come together:
9:45 AM Begin The Procession The groom and his family arrive at the home with the other men carrying trays of boxes with gifts. A member of the groom's family asks for permission to enter.
10 AM Exchange Gifts Gifts are offered to the family and placed in a visible location. Guests begin to greet one another.
10:20 AM Share a Welcome A member of the bride's family welcomes the guests and introduces members of the family.
10:30 AM Invite the Bride The bride's presence is requested and she enters the tea ceremony space.
10:45 AM Ask for Blessings This is an optional time to light incense. Then bow towards the parents and then one another.
11 AM Enjoy the Tea The couple pours their tea (or alternative drive.) They offer tea to family members, with the eldest first. You can build in extra time here for toasts or more gifts to be presented.
11:45 AM Take Photos Make sure to take some time to captured photos of all guests in attendance. You can either have your guests pose for pictures first and then focus on the happy couple, or have the bride and groom break away first (while guests finish up their tea!) You can take these photos in any order that feels right. Family members who will be helping with lunch can sneak away when their part is finished to help finding getting the meal ready.
12:30 PM Eat Lunch All guests can enjoy a laid back and hearty meal together.
2 PM Take a Break The bride and groom will likely be getting tired at this point. Break away for some time of solitude to get refreshed before the next phase of the wedding celebrations. (This is very important to build into your timeline!)
3 PM Head to the Location and Get Ready Depending on the location, make sure to factor in ample travel time. The bride will probably have hair and makeup touched up before putting on the gown. And then, getting ready shots, from the bride putting on her dress to more formal photos of the groom and his wedding party. (It’s important to plan to have snacks handy if you choose to pop champagne because it will be a little while until dinner!)
4:30 PM Wedding Ceremony This is optional time for a short western wedding ceremony. If you choose to forgo this section, build in time for extra breaks or more photos of the bride and groom in wedding attire. You could also shift everything prior to this point by 30 minutes or extend the time of your cocktail hour.
5:15 PM Cocktail Hour If you choose to go straight from the tea ceremony to the evening reception, then this may be the first time that all of those on your invite list begin to experience your wedding. Make them feel welcome with a signature drink.
5:45 PM The Grand Entrance Have the DJ or wedding planner introduce the bridal party as they enter the ceremony space. The bride and groom can then join their guests and enjoy the end of cocktail hour.
6:10 PM Special Dances This is optional time for specific and sentimental dances based on family traditions and dynamics. This could include the first dance for the bride and groom, father-daughter dance, and mother-son dance.
6:30 PM All on the Dance Floor Invite the rest of the guests onto the dance floor. The bride and groom can spend this time going from one table to the next and greeting their guests.
7:15 PM Cake Cutting And Other Elements (i.e. Garter Toss) This will be the last optional section for additional reception elements before the dancing continues. This could include the cake cutting, wedding toasts, or garter toss. Make sure to grab any final photos with guests that are important to you before you finish the night on the dance floor.
8:15 PM Dance the Night Away Turn up the music and enjoy time with your guests. If you choose to have other forms of entertainment (singers, dancers, performers) then they could also perform at this point in the evening.
9:45 PM The Grand Exit From sparklers to confetti, you name it! If this feels too early or late then adjust your timeline accordingly!
We hope that this was helpful as you find ways to honor your family history and unique heritage. If you are looking for a photographer to capture your Vietnamese tea ceremony, we are here for you!
At Joy Photo and Video, we offer photography and videography services across Texas (including Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio). See portfolios of some of our work here.
We absolutely love capturing special events which are deeply rooted in the cultural traditions which shape our Joy couples. We connect with the value of family and celebrate the cultural ties that help to lay the foundation of your future marriage. If you’d like to discuss how we can help capture the special parts of your tea ceremony or wedding day, reach out to us today.
Need more tips? We found this handy checklist to help with building a timeline for a Vietnamese tea ceremony.
[Photoshoot in the spotlight: Tiffany and Nhat in Dallas, Texas by Jillian.]
The Joy Team