Vietnam’s ancient history and rich local folklore have led to some strong held beliefs that certain behaviors will increase good fortune while others will doom family members to bad luck or invite evil spirits to lurk around the home. Here are nine fascinating Vietnamese superstitions that people still believe.
Tet, or the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is an incredibly superstitious time for Vietnamese families. Everyone hopes to bring themselves and their loved ones good fortune over the coming year, and one thing that dictates the family’s luck is the first visitor of the year. Some ingenious family members have devised a sneaky plan to ensure the first visitor is a ‘desirable’ one; either a member of the family will step outside and come back in moments after the clock strikes 12, or they will arrange for a fortuitous friend to be the household’s first guest.
Another Tet superstition is that sweeping on the Lunar New Year will effectively wipe out the family’s good luck for the year. Families normally engage in a thorough deep-clean of the home a few days prior to Tet so no one will have the urge to clean up on the most important day of the year and accidentally rid the family of good fortune.
Ghost money refers to imitation bills that are symbolic offerings to deceased ancestors. Ghost money is printed on bamboo paper and can be made to resemble Chinese yen, Vietnamese dong, Thai baht, or even U.S. dollars that are burnt and dedicated to the family’s ancestors. Some believe the ancestors can deposit this money in an afterlife bank, while others view ghost money as payment for the ancestors granting the living family’s wishes.
Quite a bit of superstition falls around pregnant women in Vietnam. Pregnant women are not supposed to attend weddings as they are seen as ‘bad luck’ for the newly married couple; a pregnant woman should not attend funerals lest her child be a ‘cry-baby’; she should not step over a hammock or her baby will be ‘lazy’; and she must avoid temples and pagodas to avoid angering the spirits residing there. When the baby is born, the new mother and family members must also resist coddling the child as spirits may become jealous and steal the newborn from the family. For this reason, many Vietnamese refrain from complimenting a newborn or lavishing the baby with too much adoration.
A fertilized duck embryo is known as hột vịt lộn in Vietnam and is a popular beer snack that can also be consumed as a means of reversing bad luck. Lộn loosely translates to ‘reverse’, which is where the notion of switching your fortune by eating the egg comes from. However, these powerful eggs should only ever be eaten in odd numbers; if you eat two, then your bad luck will reverse twice, meaning your situation won’t have changed at all and you’ll have chewed into two baby ducks for nothing.
Vietnamese families also strongly believe in Feng Shui, called phong thuỷ in Vietnamese. This ancient practice involves the meticulous placement of objects, furniture, and even an entire home to optimize the flow of chi, or energy, to facilitate a harmonious environment. In Vietnam, it is strongly discouraged to place a mirror on the opposite side of a doorway because as you enter the home, you can be spooked by your own reflection in the mirror and paranoia can creep into your conscience. Similarly, a mirror placed at the foot of the bed is not a wise move as it will cause nightmares as well as reflecting double the amount of energy onto the bed, creating a chi disaster. However, mirrors are often placed on front doors to scare away a dragon or an evil spirit as they will be frightened by their own reflection and will leave the house alone.
Another interesting superstition is the notion that, according to locals, a badly timed haircut could cause memory loss. This is particularly troublesome for students – if a student gets a haircut right before an important test or exam, they could forget everything they’ve learned. For this reason it may be best to schedule a new haircut after that important exam takes place.
Many Vietnamese shop owners believe the first customer of the day will indicate how profitable their shop will be for that day. If the first customer is a big spender, the day will be fortuitous, while it can be bad luck if they do not purchase anything. If you’re looking to snag some souvenirs in Vietnam, consider buying your items earlier in the day and save the browsing for later as entering a shop early just to peruse the selection could be a bad omen for the superstitious shop owner.
One of the most mind-boggling sights on the packed Vietnamese city streets is the amount of small children riding motorbikes without a helmet. The government mandated helmets for motorbike drivers and passengers on all Vietnamese roads in 2007, but strangely, you’ll rarely see a helmet-clad child clinging to their parent while cruising along the busy roads. This could be because of the pervasive belief that a helmet will hinder the child’s brain development by preventing their brain from growing.
Parents have also cited their child’s ever-changing helmet size as reasons they do not wear one at all, but either way this is one superstition that deserves to be shelved ASAP.