Burning joss paper in Vietnam - A thousands of years old ritual
burning joss paper vietnam cover

Burning joss paper in Vietnam – A thousands of years old ritual

Burring and worship dead people culture in Vietnam might shock the foreigners. But what shocks you more is not those rituals. Every year, the Vietnamese people spend more than 30 million USD for burning joss paper for dead people. It is a way that the locals show their respect and thankfulness to the dead people for what they have done when being alive. Moreover, the local people also say that they always remember them through burning joss paper in the important days.

burning joss paper

Burning joss paper is a thousand of years old ritual of the Vietnamese – Image: The Nation.

Where was the burning joss paper come from?

There are so many Vietnamese people think that burning joss paper is a ritual from Buhhdism. However, the truth is that its origin was from China.

In 1222 B.C, in China, when the husband dies, they bury his wife and subordinates with him as a way to bring all the husband property with him to another world. Then, the Chinese replaced with the dummy instead of the real human. In 105, they invented to make paper from rind and old clothes. From then, they made the joss paper to burn with the dead people as a way to send them wealth.

burning joss paper

Burning joss paper has the original from China – Image: Pxhere.com.

There are no documents record exact time when burning joss paper came to Vietnam. However, it has come to Vietnam in the time of being colonised by the Chinese feudalism.

Meaning of burning joss paper in Vietnam

The Vietnamese people have a conception that there is another world which exists parallelly with our world. That world is a place for dead people. Furthermore, their world is also the same as ours. Therefore, burning joss paper is a way that the Vietnamese people show their respect to the dead people who are their relatives and friends.

burning joss paper

Joss paper is for sending to dead people to show the respect and care of alive ones to their relatives – Image: Miss Melinda’s.

As the conception of the local people, what dead people need is the same as what we need. As a result, the joss paper that the Vietnamese burn is in so many shapes. There are simple things such as a piece of paper which are used as clothes or ghost money. There are even cars, smartphones or a house.

When do people do burning joss paper?

burning joss paper

It is not everyday people burn joss paper – Image: Anwill | Storyblocks.

Burning joss paper is a holy tradition of the local people. Therefore, it is not everyday we can do it. Death anniversary is the most usual occasion that the Vietnamese burn the joss paper. Death anniversary day is the time that people call dead people to come back home and have a feast, then give them wealth to back to their world. Therefore, on these days, the local people usually burn ghost money, gold, silver, clothes. There are some family they even buy joss paper in shapes of cars, smartphones and houses to burn for dead people.

burning joss paper

On the day that alive people invite their dead relatives to come home to have a feast, they burn joss paper – Image: Jeromewong Photography | WordPress.

On the farewell ceremony for the Kitchen Gods and Hungry Ghost Festival, people also do burning joss paper to send ghost money, gold, silver and clothes to the god and gosh.

Specially, Tet holiday is the time that people burn joss paper most. The reason is that Tet holiday is the time of worship. There are so many feasts as well as rituals during this time. Therefore, burning joss paper on Tet holiday become a tradition of this holiday.

burning joss paper

People burn joss paper in a temple – Image: Cong An Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh.

The rituals of burning joss paper in Vietnam

There must be a tray before burning joss paper as the local Vietnamese culture. The tray includes wine, tea, chicken, pork and joss paper. All the dishes in this tray are only used for the feast after the joss paper is burnt. Moreover, some sugar cane must be needed for the tray as a york to carry ancestors back to their world.

burning joss paper

The worship tray always have joss paper – Image: Jovanel | Pizabay.

Burning joss paper as the culture of the Vietnamese must has its order. Firstly, people will burn the joss paper for house Gods. After that, it is the turn of joss paper for ancestors. Some people think that the more joss paper they worship, the better for dead people. However, each of the worships has its own rituals.

burning joss paper

There are people even burn a paper car to send to dead people while it is not necessary and goes wrong of the tradition and spiritual meaning of burning joss paper – Image: Coconuts Hong Kong.

For the Kitchen Gods, joss paper must have 3 hats, 3 sets of ghost money, 3 sets of golden paper. In contrast, joss paper for New Year Eve worship includes 2 hats, 2 sets of clothes and 2 sets of ghost money. Moreover, when people move their relatives’ grave to a new place, there must be worship. It includes joss paper of a small house and ghost money or gold. This money and gold can be used to buy new interiors and other necessary things in another world where the dead relatives living.

burning joss paper

Burning joss paper in a festival – Image: Dat Viet Tour.

However, you do not need to remember all of these rituals. Normally, the providers prepare them all for every purpose of worship. Therefore, you just need to distingue among the purpose of worship and let them know, you will have a perfect set of burning joss paper that you need.

burning joss paper

Ghost money is burnt to send to dead people – Image: 123rf.com.


In conclusion, burning joss paper has nothing to be said as a bad tradition. It is a way that the Vietnamese show their respect and love as well as the care to their dead relatives. However, if it is over-making such as burning cars, big houses, fridge and other unnecessary things, it is not a tradition anymore, it is a way that people show off their wealthiness.