As an archipelago of over 7,000 islands that serve as home to a variety of peoples and cultures, there is no single template for a Filipino wedding. However, every unique tradition is reflective of a deep sense of family and community.
“Some Filipino weddings are large and follow traditional conventions you might see in the Philippines with a full Catholic ceremony,” says social entrepreneur Gelaine Santiago, “but many weddings are also smaller/intimate and non-denominational.”
Meet the Expert
Before diving into the many traditions of Filipino weddings, here are some frequently asked questions:
- What should I wear? As a rule of thumb, guests should avoid wearing revealing outfits, especially during the wedding ceremony. It’s best to check the invitation if the wedding has a specific dress code or color scheme to follow. For traditional Filipino weddings that have no specific dress code, everyone is expected to dress conservatively. Men often resort to wearing the barong, a sheer, long-sleeved formal shirt over slacks and dress shoes, a style that is recently being adapted and worn by younger women. Access to Filipiniana wear can be limited outside of the Philippines, but Gelaine notes, “most weddings follow western styles of dress.”
- Should I bring gifts? Not all guests are expected to bring gifts, especially those outside the couple’s immediate circle. Guests may opt to check if the couple has a wedding registry, or simply participate in the money dance during the wedding reception.
- How long is the ceremony? Catholic wedding ceremonies may take at least an hour for mass, but the wedding reception can last all day and all night due to the festivities.
Here are 13 common traditions you can expect to see at a Filipino wedding.
Formal Introductions and Negotiations
Known in Tagalog as pamamanhikan, this acts as the first official step in a Filipino wedding. It could take place months or weeks before the wedding ceremony, and involves the groom’s family meeting the bride’s family. It traditionally symbolizes an official proposal to the bride and the bride’s family, thus combining their families together. Specific traditions vary by region: some involve sharing sugarcane wine and playing drinking games for the families to get to know each other; some exchange symbolic items and present the bride’s parents with dowry; while some share a small feast together and discuss wedding plans. While traditionally done at home, Ronna Capili-Bonifacio observes, “recent years have seen us doing these traditions in restaurants/public spaces, to minimize the preparations for both families.”
The couple makes their rounds to the homes of invitees to personally make their wedding announcements and hand out official wedding invitations. This is usually when the couple asks elders and prominent figures of their community to be wedding godparents or sponsors, presenting them with small gifts and refreshments.
The Bulungan, which translates to “whispering," takes place in the bride’s house and involves the bride and groom’s families (usually their elders) huddling together to quietly make plans, budget allocations, and task divisions for the upcoming wedding. The arrangements are all conducted with everyone whispering, so as to not attract bad spirits and misfortune.
The wedding preparations take place a day before the wedding and is centered around the Filipino concept of bayanihan, which involves performing small, heroic acts for the good of the community. Many in the bride and groom’s families and community chip in with preparing the reception area, cooking the wedding dishes, and clearing the route for the wedding retinue. Specific preparations vary by region, religion, and ethnic group: some prepare a special sticky rice cake using specific wooden spoons and placements; some also hold traditional spiritual ceremonies; while more metropolitan weddings simply hold something akin to a rehearsal dinner where attendees get to know each other.
During the ceremony, the couple asks for blessings from their parents by either kissing their hands or touching the back of their hands to their foreheads. Depending on the religion, the parents will utter phrases in return. In Filipino-Muslim weddings, the groom kisses his father-in-law’s hand.
Veil and Cord
Godparents drape a ceremonial lace veil over the bride’s head and the groom’s shoulder to symbolize being clothed as one. A ceremonial cord called a yugal is wrapped around the couple in a figure eight. This symbolizes an eternal bond of fidelity. The yugal is often a silken cord that is personally woven by the mother of the bride, or an oversized rosary if the ceremony is Catholic.
The 13 Coins
The groom gives 13 coins called the Arrhae to the bride as a promise of prosperity. Depending on the region, the coins are either tucked into a handkerchief, handed over individually by the wedding sponsors and godparents, or trickled from the groom’s hands into the bride’s cupped palms. The coin ceremony is a practice inherited from Spain and is common in both Catholic and Hispanic wedding ceremonies around the world.
Lighting of the Unity Candle
Two wedding sponsors each light a pair of candles located at each side of the bride and groom. The couple later takes a candle each, and light the unity candle together, signifying their union, as well as the union of their families.
A Shower of Rice
Grains of rice are thrown over newlyweds as they exit from the church, symbolizing bounty and rain—commonly read as a sign of good blessings. In some regions, the newlyweds go through another rice shower upon entering the threshold of their new home, or the reception venue. Rice is one of the foremost crop staples in the Philippines, and holds a sacred status—weddings in ancient times were officiated by priestesses holding the couples’ joined hands over a mound of rice grains, which were later cooked and eaten by the newlyweds as their first shared meal.
The newlyweds are served a small plate of kalamay, or sticky rice cakes to symbolize sticking together through their married life. They are then given a pile of rice cakes wrapped in palm leaves and seated at a table where a chosen bidder—usually a favorite aunt or friend—bids off the rice cakes for them. Godparents, sponsors, and guests drop money into a bowl on the table as the bidder playfully chides them into giving higher and higher amounts, while the newlyweds give packs of wrapped rice cakes in return.
The couple’s first dance is usually the money dance. Guests attach money to the newlyweds’ clothes using tape or pins. Depending on the region or ethnic group, guests may pin bills or red envelopes (in the case of Filipino-Chinese families) and little purses filled with money. This is considered a way to help the newlyweds get started financially.
Sharing of Food
While wedding cakes are a Western touch, Filipino brides and grooms would sometimes share their first slice with their parents and elders. This extends their shared responsibilities and guidance over the newlyweds. In some regions, little portions of the wedding dishes are offered to deceased relatives in a solemn ceremony that occurs immediately after the wedding feast, or the day after the wedding itself.
In some Filipino weddings, the newlyweds would perform traditional dances for their guests. Examples include the Pangalay, a colorful and elaborate wedding dance performed in some Filipino-Muslim weddings, and the Salidsid (pictured), a playful courtship dance by the Kalinga people of the Northern Philippines.