13 Filipino Wedding Traditions

Two experts walk couples through the most common wedding practices.

bride and groom

Photo by Heaven Gloria

As an archipelago of over 7,000 islands that serve as home to a variety of people and cultures, there is no single template for a Filipino wedding. “Some Filipino weddings are large and follow traditional conventions you might see in the Philippines with a full Catholic ceremony, but many weddings are also smaller, intimate, and non-denominational," says social entrepreneur Gelaine Santiago.

However, even with a diverse range of customs, those of Filipino descent know that every unique tradition is rooted in a deep sense of family and community. To share more about Filipino weddings and their familial roots, we asked experts Gelaine Santiago and Ronna Capili Bonifacio to highlight 13 common traditions Filipino couples can incorporate into their own special days.

Meet the Expert

  • Gelaine Santiago is an e-commerce social entrepreneur, storyteller, and co-founder of Sinta & Co., a socially-conscious Filipino wedding boutique.
  • Ronna Capili Bonifacio is the editor-in-chief of inspirations.ph, a magazine by Themes & Motifs, which is a bridal fair organizer based in the Philippines.
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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 ceremony, and involves the couple's families meeting each other for an official proposal—though the specifics behind this custom can vary based on the couple's region of origin. For instance, some share sugarcane wine and play drinking games, some exchange symbolic items and present the bride’s parents with a dowry, while some share a small feast together and discuss wedding plans. What's more, Ronna Capili-Bonifacio, editor-in-chief of inspirations.ph, notes that “recent years have seen us doing these traditions in restaurants or public spaces to minimize the preparations for both families.”

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Wedding Announcements

This tradition involves the couple visiting the homes of invitees to personally make their wedding announcements and hand out official invitations. It's also 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. 

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Making Arrangements

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.

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Wedding Preparations

The wedding preparations take place a day before the big day and are centered around the Filipino concept of bayanihan, which involves performing small, heroic acts for the good of the community. Members of the family and community chip in with preparing the reception area, cooking the wedding dishes, and clearing the route for the wedding retinue.

Regarding the specifics of the custom, details vary by region, religion, and ethnic group. Some people prepare a special sticky rice cake using specific wooden spoons and placements, others hold traditional spiritual ceremonies, while more metropolitan weddings simply host something akin to a rehearsal dinner where attendees get to know each other.

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Parental Blessings

parental blessing

Photo by Pot Tomas Photography

During the ceremony, the couple asks for blessings from their parents by either kissing their hands or touching the back of their parents' hands to their own foreheads. And depending on the religion, the parents will utter phrases in return. In Filipino-Muslim weddings, the groom kisses his father-in-law’s hand.

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Veil and Cord

people placing cord over bride and groom

Photo by Pot Tomas Photography

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 then wrapped around the couple in a figure-eight pattern, which 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.

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The 13 Coins

The groom gives 13 coins called the Arrhae to his partner 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 his partner'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.

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Lighting of the Unity Candle

couple lighting unity candle

Photo by Pot Tomas Photography 

For this custom, two wedding sponsors light a pair of candles located on each side of the couple. The betrothed then takes each candle and lights a unity candle together, signifying their union, as well as the union of their families.

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A Shower of Rice

As a symbol of bounty and rain, commonly read as a sign of good blessings, grains of rice are thrown over newlyweds as they exit from the church. In some regions, the newlyweds go through another rice shower upon entering the threshold of their new home or the reception venue.

This tradition has significant meaning as rice is one of the foremost crop staples in the Philippines and holds a sacred status. Specifically, weddings in ancient times were officiated by priestesses holding the couples’ joined hands over a mound of rice grains, which was later cooked and eaten by the newlyweds as their first shared meal. 

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Rice Cakes

couple eating rice cake

Photo by Pot Tomas Photography

The newlyweds are served a small plate of kalamay, or sticky rice cakes, to symbolize "sticking together" through their married life. Next, 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 to guests. Godparents, sponsors, and guests drop money into a bowl on the table as the bidder playfully rallies them into giving more money, while the newlyweds give away packs of wrapped rice cakes in return.

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Money Dance

money dance

Photo by Nhi Le

A tradition within many cultures, at Filipino weddings, the couple’s first dance is usually the money dance. Guests will typically attach money to the newlyweds’ clothes using tape, pins, red envelopes (in the case of Filipino-Chinese families), or little purses. This is considered a way to help the newlyweds get started financially.

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Sharing of Food

While wedding cakes are a Western touch, Filipino couples will sometimes share their first slice with their parents and elders. 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.

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Wedding Performances

couple dancing

Photo by Erica Swantek Photography

In some Filipino weddings, the newlyweds perform traditional dances for their guests. Examples include the Pangalay, a colorful and elaborate dance performed in some Filipino-Muslim weddings, and the Salidsid (pictured), a playful courtship dance by the Kalinga people of the Northern Philippines. 

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