Except among young moderns, one of the greatest desires of the Vietnamese is to have a large family. Boys are more desired than girls and are especially important to carry on the family line and ancestral worship. A couple having only girls are looked upon by many as having done something wrong in their lives and are, therefore, being punished.
Pregnancy and Birth
Traditional customs dictate that the mother-to-be must follow strict rules and observe certain customs and taboos in order to have a good healthy baby. She should eat only nourishing foods, but not so nourishing that they would cause the baby to become to big before birth. The mother must carry on prenatal education with her baby, acting and talking as if he was in her presence at all times, guiding and counseling him in physical, intellectual, and moral activities. Alcohol and cigarettes are considered undesirable for the expectant mother.
Pregnant women are often discouraged from undertaking heavy work and getting involved in tense situations. In some lower economic strata, this is impossible, but still desirable.
An expectant mother should not go to weddings and funerals as it is believed that her presence could bring bad luck to the families concerned. It is also considered bad luck for a pregnant woman to meet people about to set out on a trip. Mother-to-be should not step over a hammock lest their child be born lazy. They should not walk too much, reach for things high up, take long uncomfortable rides or frequent places of worship.
Midwives generally deliver babies and cut the umbilical cord with a piece of earthenware or a bamboo knife. The baby is then washed and dressed in old handed-down clothes of his brothers and sisters. Vietnamese people fear that the evil spirits will be jealous of new clothes and cause the baby to become ill. The father may see the child only after the baby has been cleaned and dressed.
Friends send the mother nourishing food, and the baby gold bracelets, clothing and trinkets. The baby’s hair and nails must never be cut during the first month of life.
Whatever possible, the mother is encouraged not to do any strenuous work for at least two to three months. Among the peasantry, they are often back at work within a few days, because of necessity.
After approximately one-month, the newborn baby’s parents have a large party to celebrate the baby’s first month birthday. Offerings are presented at this time to the "Holy Godmother" who is thought to be the protector of the new child. They also believe that the Holy Godmother teaches the baby to smile and that crying means the child is being punished for stubbornness. During the ceremony, a flower which has been wet with special water from the altar is held over the baby and the water is allowed to drip into the infant’s mouth. This is to insure that the child will learn to speak in sweet scented words.
After the prayers and ceremonies, guests have a happy party at which they eat the offerings of food from the ceremony. At this time, it is considered correct to put new clothes on the baby, but care is still observed in not mentioning the good health of the child lest the evil spirits become jealous and make him ill.
The baby has another celebration after one lunar year. It is called "quitting the cradle." This is a much larger party with numerous guests. The baby is placed on a bed in a sitting position. Several things are spread around him including scissors, flowers, books, pencils, etc. The item the baby picks up first is supposed to determine his future avocation. If he takes the scissors, he may become a tailor; the book, a learned man, etc.
A baby is considered to be one year of age at birth and becomes two years old when the next lunar New Year arrives. It is possible, therefore, for a child to become two years old when he is just one day old if he is born on New Year’s Eve.