For as long as I can remember, on one special day of the month, every month, for the past ten plus years, my parents have paid tribute to their ancestors through ritualized ceremonies involving different Vietnamese dishes, incense, and an assortment of fruits. A vital part of Vietnamese culture is ancestor veneration, the act of paying respect to one’s passed relatives through food offerings and other ceremonies. It has been customary for Vietnamese people to honor the passing of a relative in order to show respect for the individual. Birthdays were seldom celebrated in Vietnamese culture before the influence of western culture.
I remember my mom waking up before anyone else just to prepare the food for the offerings. She would cook a plate of Banh bao (pork buns), Banh bot loc (Vietnamese ravioli), and even che ba mau (Vietnamese sweet bean dessert). I would help her place the plates of food onto the altar and then light up six to seven sticks of incense. We would normally wait until it was night time or when the incense sticks finished burning before removing the food from the altar. It was permitted to eat the food offerings when the ceremony was finished.
Vietnamese people have strong beliefs in community and family values. They believe that one should always love their family and never forget their culture. Just because a family member passes away does not mean that they are entirely gone. Their spirit should never be forgotten. Their name and life should still be celebrated as if they’re still earthbound.