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Death Ceremony

Death anniversary

The death anniversary is a ceremony to commemorate a dead person in Vietnamese culture. It is held on the date of death according to the Lunar Calendar every year. It also reminds youngsters of their ancestors and to strengthen relationships between members of a family or of an occupational group.


The celebration of the death anniversary is an important day for Vietnamese people. It expresses faithfulness and compassion of living people towards dead people and to show filial respect to their ancestors. If you are wealthy, you can prepare a big party and invite your relatives and friends. If you are poor, a bowl of rice with salt, a boiled egg, incense and some simple foods are good enough. Your sincerity is not measured by how big a ceremony is. If you are a friend or relative of a dead person, you just go to death anniversary celebration without being invited.

Main activities:

Preparation will depend on a family’s financial status. Big parties will take longer while simple ones are easier to prepare. Nowadays, they will make, at least, a table of six. They will put all the food on a big tray and lay it down in front of an altar which has a picture of the dead person on it. Included on that tray, they put paper money (fake money that Vietnamese burn to send to dead people to help them buy things in the other life, a kind of quick Western Union money transfer) and rice wine. The dead persons name is written on the fake money and, when it is burnt, goes to a special depository for the deceased to pick up to use in the next life. The family also burns other paper and cardboard images of things they can use in the next life like cars, houses, horses and once a family member burnt a Boeing jet while his neighbor, not to be outdone, burnt a spaceship.  The head of family will dress respectably; burn 3 incense sticks and make a prayer which shows his respect to the ancestor. (I use his as the head of family as it is always a man. If they don’t have a son then the eldest son in law will be in charge). They wait until the incense sticks burn up then they will burn the paper money and other paper or cardboard items. The paper money will be sent directly to the dead person so he or she can use it to make their way home.

After the ceremony, family members will eat the food that they offered in the ceremony. They eat and drink and talk to each other happily. After eating, the family will divide fruit and candy into small bags and give one to everybody who came to the ceremony.

Extra information:

– If for some reason they can’t hold the death anniversary on the date that their ancestor passed away, they have to pray on that day and explain why they cannot and ask for permission to move it to another date.

– The cost of the ceremony will be divided between all male members of the family, female members; including the son-in-law, can also put in money if they want to.

– The 1st anniversary will be as big as the funeral ceremony and they will invite a lot of relatives and friends to attend. Friends of the dead person will bring incense, paper money and some times an envelope with real money inside to help the family to cover the costs.

– In big cities, sometimes they don’t know all their in-laws but, in the country, as they live nearby each other, ceremonies like this are a chance to get to know new members of the family and catch up with people not seen for a while.

– In some cases, the death ceremony may be held on the date of the normal calendar, not the lunar calendar, if the family is of the Catholic religion.



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