Ancestor worship was introduced into Vietnam by the Chinese during their long occupation of the country that began 200 years before the birth of Christ. Since then, it has been fully absorbed into the Vietnamese consciousness and, with Confucianism, underpins the country’s religion and social fabric.
Ancestor worship is one of the most unifying aspects of Vietnamese culture, as practically all Vietnamese; regardless of religious affiliation (Buddhist or Catholic) have an ancestor altar in their home or business. Unlike people from Anglo-Saxon or European origins, Vietnamese did not highly value birthday celebration, but the death anniversary of a loved one was always an important occasion. On the first day of every month and the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar, the descendants worship their ancestors and the deceased with an offering of a few fresh flowers, bowls of water, and a bunch of bananas. These offerings may vary from region to region.
Every year on the day when a family member passed away or on festivals, new and full moon days, and so on, the surviving members gather together and commemorate the deceased person which is called “ngày giỗ”. They spend the entire day cooking and preparing for an elaborate banquet in honor of the deceased individual; therefore, the ceremony serves as a time for families to reunite and share happiness and sorrows together.
Even the poor families offer their ancestors and the deceased a day of observation by serving a meal with some meat, fish or vegetables and they invite several relatives to attend the ceremony. A relative’s absence from an anniversary is cause for sadness by the person preparing the ceremony and those who cannot attend it also feel guilty because it is considered a duty and responsibility to attend the important event of the day.
The ritual of worshiping their ancestors and the deceased is rooted from the following beliefs: for many Vietnamese, death is not the end; that is, the physical aspect of life vanishes but the soul is immortal which is called yin and yang harmony. Therefore, many Vietnamese believe that the presence of their ancestors in the daily life of the family is still here on earth. They also believe that the ancestors continue blessing them. For the great things that are happening in the family the head of the family utterly bows before the family ancestors first to present the issue to them and next to ask the ancestors for their blessings.