What is it?
The Vietnamese Engagement Ceremony has also been referred to as the Tea Ceremony, the Dam Hoi, or the Le Dinh Hon. It’s important to know that these all essentially refer to the same custom. I will refer to it as the Dam Hoi in this blog. The Dam Hoi is a formal and official announcement of an engagement. I like to think of it as a marriage proposal from the groom and his family. In Western culture, we are accustomed to a man and a ring down on one knee representing a proposal. In Vietnamese culture, picture a man, his family, and a dowry or offering to the woman and her family.
When and why do families do this?
When? It’s up to you and your fiance and families. I’ve seen people do it the same day as their wedding. My fiance and I decided to do it one year before the big day. He got down on one knee 8 months prior, so it gave us enough time to plan. We wanted to do the Dam Hoi separate from our wedding day to avoid a packed schedule of events. We also didn’t want to wait another year for our families to meet for the first time at our wedding. It was special and intimate for them to get to know each other in a smaller and relaxed setting without feeling obligated to host our wedding guests.
This leads to our next question… Why do families do this? The Vietnamese culture applies this tradition when two people get married because it is a way of involving our families and giving the couple an opportunity to honor their elders and show respect to their heritage. My fiance and I are Vietnamese-American and first-generation children in our families, so it was a priority to infuse our culture into our upcoming matrimony.
What is the planning process?
The traditional attire is referred to as the Ao Dai, translated to “long dress.” It is elegant, feminine, and timeless. We had every single outfit custom designed and made in Vietnam. I drew up inspiration boards of the vision I had in mind. My mom traveled to Vietnam to sit down with a seamstress, FaceTime me, and we went through fabrics and detailing together. Any time you are custom designing anything, there’s always a possibility that it won’t be produced the way that you imagined. However, with a lot of luck and prayer, the final product was spot-on for my Ao Dai. You can’t even tell the difference. I went with an ivory color instead of the traditional red because I wanted to wear something softer. This is an example of how you can change up the tradition and try something different.
We didn’t have as much luck with the bridesmaid’s attire. In the first batch, we went with an “ivory” color, but it turned out to look like an egg-yellow, and the fabric looked poor in quality while being unflattering. We had to scrap the entire batch and start over. This time, I went with a vibrant blue that would match with the groomsmen. I also added a small floral beading detail at the top of the dress that served as a focal point. We still hit another road bump because our seamstress used our guys’ measurements to create the girls’ pants… I still don’t understand how they mixed it up and didn’t notice, but it ended up being really funny (see photos). My grandma is a seamstress, so she altered the pants for us. Finally, the girls finished their look with DIY floral fans. We opted out of the typical bridesmaid bouquet because they will have one for the wedding, so we wanted to take advantage to be creative and different. I went to Michael’s to buy floral bunches, and I cut up pieces to hot glue onto wooden fans that I purchased on Amazon. I finished it off with a satin ribbon bow.
For the men, they wore their Ao Dai with black dress pants and dress shoes. It was a great experience for them, and they have an outfit to keep for Lunar New Year now! The groom stood out in the red/burgundy while the men looked dapper in the deep blue.
Home Set-Up (Decor)
The bride and her family are responsible for decorating the house because this is where the party takes place. We transformed our living room into the ceremony space. My concept was different from what you would normally see at a Dam Hoi. Red and gold are prominent colors in our culture, but this is where we threw in a more contemporary twist. I wanted to keep the vision soft and inviting. Enter blush tones, white tulle, and greenery. My mom went to the local swapmeet to purchase yards of blush fabrics that my grandma measured, cut, and pleated. We bought the white tulle at IKEA, and I got the green grass wall cut at Home Depot for our monogram sign. Our sign with our names was cut and made in Vietnam. My uncle installed metal rods so that we could insert the fabric drape the walls. The draping instantly transformed the room. I added warm fairy lights against the white tulle just as a small touch. Then, I started accenting the room with leaves and greenery that I found at Michael’s. I arranged the edge accents, and also bought two garlands of eucalyptus at Target to serve as a table runner. I placed small framed photos of us as well. Table and chair rentals are insanely priced, so our reception venue for the wedding was kind enough to loan their chairs and table plus linens for us to borrow for free. For the guests in the backyard, my aunt bought wholesale flowers and arranged them in mason jars for the centerpieces. The only thing we couldn’t DIY and had to rent out was the main ceremony arch. It was from a local bridal shop, and we had them create a design that utilized mainly green and white florals.
In addition to setting up the home, my family was also responsible for preparing all the meals. Even with just our immediate families present, we still had roughly 75 guests! My grandma is Wonder Woman and managed to cook for everyone. She had some help in the kitchen, but I definitely attribute everyone’s happy bellies to her!
For the offering trays, or mam qua in Vietnamese, we also rented these from the local bridal shop. We chose gold trays instead of the usual red ones. Inside the trays, you would find: betel leaves or areca fruit (Symbol of marriage in Vietnamese Culture), sticky rice, LOTS of assorted fruit, cake, and alcohol (Hennessey lol!).
Another significant part of the dowry is the roasted pig. It would have to be ordered in advance and picked up on the day-of. It took two groomsmen to hold the pig.
Can’t have a tea ceremony without the tea set! We also rented this out from the bridal shop. The groom carried this along with a bouquet of flowers during the procession.
The final part of the dowry is the jewelry. The groom would present the engagement ring, and the groom’s mom would gift a pair of earrings and a necklace. This piece is important and special because it symbolizes the mother-in-law’s acceptance of her new daughter and represents a welcome into her family.
What happens on the day-of? (Procession)
The bride and her family are working on the final preparations and getting ready while the groom arrives at the bride’s home. He arrives with his family, groomsmen, and offerings. Khang’s family lined up for the procession with his grandparents leading the group, followed by his parents. He and his groomsmen were right behind, along with the rest of his family. They walked together towards my home, where the bridesmaids and my parents were already lined up and ready to greet everyone. I am tucked away and hidden in a separate room while this is all happening.
Once the groomsmen and bridesmaids were lined up, the men exchanged the offerings and handed off the trays to the bridesmaids. They carried the trays in, and both families entered the house.
My family began by thanking Khang’s family for coming over, and my parents introduced a few members of my family such as my grandma and sister. Khang’s grandpa essentially served as our MC because he is a lively and dynamic speaker who kept the flow of the ceremony smooth and entertaining. After members of our families were introduced, Khang’s family would express their intention to propose the idea of marriage on behalf of Khang.
After my family accepts the proposal, my mom went into my hiding room (I was so bored!) and brought me out! I was greeted with lots of love, and it was an emotional moment when my mom handed me off.
My mom started by giving me a necklace that I will cherish forever! Then, my mother-in-law presented me with the earrings and necklace. Both of my moms put on the jewelry for me, and I was definitely feeling lucky. Then, my fiance felt extra so instead of just presenting me with the engagement ring, he took advantage of the opportunity to get down on one knee again. My reaction was definitely not authentic the second time around lol!
Opening of the Offerings
Khang and I opened the offerings together. This is a little different. Normally, the bride’s family is supposed to do this part when they first receive it, but my mom wanted us to do it.
Pouring of the Tea
Finally! It’s time to show our respect and honor our elders by pouring the tea to serve. We began with our grandparents, followed by our parents.
Optional: Firecrackers and Lion Dancers
This next part is totally optional, but I highly recommend this whether you choose to do it on during the Dam Hoi or on your wedding day. We chose to do this during the Dam Hoi because we thought it was a bold and lively way to end the ceremony with a BANG. Literally. I would light the firecrackers at your own discretion because some cities either forbid or require a special events permit. Firecrackers are also supposed to be lit when the groom’s family arrives, BUT we chose not to do it twice so we wouldn’t annoy our neighbors too much. We hired a local lion dance team called Tyun Yee Tong to perform, and our families were extremely impressed and entertained.
The lion dance culturally symbolizes prosperity and is a blessing for the upcoming marriage. Some believe that the dance chases away evil spirits or bad luck. It is extremely LOUD, so get ready to receive a noise complaint. During the dance, the lion threw lettuce and tangerines at us. They represent good fortune so it’s important to be ready to catch these items and receive the luck and prosperity! Our friend on the lion dance team also enticed us with the idea of smashing the watermelon, so we threw that in too!
Family Photos and Mingling
After the dance was over, we took family photos and everyone proceeded to the backyard to relax, mingle, and enjoy the lunch my grandma prepared. It gave them time to interact and get to know each other.
Countdown to the Wedding
And that is it! Now the real work begins as both families gear up for the wedding day. I hope this post has helped break down the Vietnamese Dam Hoi for anyone out there who is planning one, will plan one in the future, or is simply interested to learn about another culture!
all photos taken by Andrew Han Photography – some edited by me
videographer: Kaiel Jackson @caliviewfinders