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Filipino Wedding Guide: How to Tie the Knot, Filipino Style

Couple undergoing a Filipino wedding ceremony
A Filipino wedding combines elements of the past and the present.

Trends come and go, while traditions can last lifetimes. The same applies to a Filipino wedding. Sure, many progressive-thinking Filipinos choose to put a modern twist because it is their wedding, after all. However, it is still expected to keep some relevant religious and cultural conventions.

And because the Philippines is an archipelago, one can’t put Filipino weddings into a single box. The way people celebrate weddings varies, depending on a couple’s preferences. Some want a grand affair, while others would rather have a more intimate event with a few guests.

Are you planning to attend a local ceremony? Or are you planning one for yourself? We’ll share everything you need to know about tying the knot, the Filipino way.

Filipino Customs Before the Vows

Most Filipinos choose to observe a few traditional pre-wedding customs. Some may find these inconvenient, but many follow them anyway. Some are superstitious and want to err on the side of caution, while others find that these customs add charm and beauty to the occasion.

Below are a few common Filipino pre-wedding traditions that remain today:

1. Pamamanhikan

Per tradition, a Filipino wedding begins with this custom. Pamamanhikan comes from the word panhik (to climb). With its origin, its literal meaning is ascending a house’s stairs.

But in the context of Filipino weddings, this practice refers to a man formally asking to marry a girl in the presence of both their families.

This event usually happens weeks or months before the wedding. It starts with the guy asking a girl’s parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. You can consider this a Filipino blessing. Once they get approval, he and his family visit the girl’s house for a formal meeting.

The meeting traditionally begins with introductions, which is especially applicable when both families haven’t met each other. Once everyone’s gotten acquainted, discussions regarding wedding fundamentals (dates, venues, expenses, etc.) commence.

If a man were to follow old-school traditions by the book, they’d do paninilbihan (servitude) before pamamanhikan. This servitude consists of household chores like water fetching and firewood chopping.

Nowadays, most families don’t deem paninilbihan necessary in modern times. Pamamanhikans are no longer what they used to be as well; they’re now considered engagement parties.

2. Wedding announcements

A printed Filipino wedding invitation
In the Philippines, making a wedding announcement means handing out a Filipino wedding invitation to desired guests.

This Filipino wedding tradition involves visiting invitees and personally handing out wedding invitations. The couple’s extended families are almost always on guest lists.

Engaged couples usually ask elders and relevant community figures to be their godparents or Filipino wedding sponsors, coming with refreshments or gifts. Not only do these sponsors provide financial support for the wedding party, but overall guidance as well.

3. Bulungan

Bulungan may have a literal translation of “whispering,” but the voices of this practice’s participants are heard.

This pre-wedding tradition usually takes place at the bride’s house. Both the bride and groom’s families gather and make wedding plans. Superstitious people do the planning in a whispering voice to keep bad luck and spirits at bay.

4. Despedida de Soltera

This Spanish phrase means “farewell to singlehood.” A despedida de soltera is the Filipino equivalent of a bridal shower for brides or a bachelor party for grooms, which happens a few months before their weddings.

A bride’s friends are in charge of preparing bridal showers. On the other hand, a groom’s best man is responsible for throwing bachelor parties. Both soirees are gender-exclusive and are meant to celebrate a person’s last day of singlehood.

Traditional Filipino Wedding Attire

What do people wear during local nuptials?

A Filipino wedding usually has a dress code. If you’re a guest, white and its various shades are off-limits (unless requested by couples) because that color family is solely for the bride. You don’t want to be that person who stole her moment!

Black, metallic tones and sparkly hues are highly discouraged as well. You’ll come across as an overly flashy guest. Neutrals are your best bet; stick to colors like blush, taupe, or light blue.

The Bride

What is the quintessential Filipino wedding dress?

For tradition-loving folks, the Filipiniana is the be-all and end-all of local bridal garb. For those unfamiliar, this traditional outfit consists of a butterfly-sleeved blouse and a matching skirt.

Nowadays, brides have become more adventurous with their dress choices. Don’t be surprised to see contemporary pieces walking down the aisles.

The Groom

Traditional Filipino groom attire is one of the things that makes Filipino weddings unique. Men usually sport the barong tagalog, a long-sleeved neutral-colored shirt. They’re either made from piña (pineapple fiber) or jusi and have intricate embroidery. They’re also worn over a white collarless undershirt, untucked.

Man fixing his barong
The barong tagalog—the traditional Filipino groom attire—is notably featured in Filipino weddings.

Modern grooms prefer a three-piece suit, or what locals call amerikana. Since its rise in the 1920s, this outfit hasn’t gone out of style.

Filipino Wedding Traditions during the Ceremony

Regardless of themes or motifs, all Filipino nuptials have two common threads: community and family. Both parties heavily involve themselves in the preparation process. This makes sense since Filipino culture highly values both.

Below are some traditions people still practice today:

1. Veil and cord

This is where godparents step in.

During the ceremony, they’ll drape a lace veil over the groom’s shoulder and bride’s head to “clothe” them as one. They then wrap a ceremonial cord (yugal) around both in a figure-eight pattern, symbolizing an eternal bond of loyalty.

2. Rice showers

This may not make sense, but keep reading! Rice has an extra significant symbolism in a Filipino wedding. This crop has a sacred status because it’s one of the country’s staples.

Showering rice grains symbolize people’s well-wishes. This usually happens when the couple exits the church. Some regions do this shower twice, with the second round happening at the reception venue or the newlywed’s homes.

3. Money dances

In some Filipino weddings, the first dance involves people pinning money on the newlyweds’ clothes. According to traditions, this practice will help couples start on a good financial note.

4. Rice cakes

The newlywed couple is served a small plate of kalamay (sticky rice cake). They’re then given a generous pile of rice cakes encased in palm leaves.

The couple will sit at a chosen bidder’s table, which is where they’ll auction the rice cakes to guests. Guests and godparents will shell out money as bidders playfully goad them to make donations, in exchange for the wrapped rice cakes.

What do sticky rice cakes have to do with Filipino weddings, you ask? Per traditions, they symbolize a couple sticking together through the good, bad, and ugly times.

If you’re getting married to a Filipino partner, we recommend throwing a Filipino wedding. Incorporating your partner’s tradition in this sacred event will make for an extra special day for you both.

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