A Filipino wedding is not just a union of two people—it is also the union of two families. It is not just an event, but a milestone. And just like Christmas, a wedding is not just a one-day event. It is a season.
Filipino men are not just caring, conservative, and hardworking. They are also transparent. Filipino men follow a linear-type of relationship—where one’s intentions are expressed through music, like harana (serenade), poetry, and gift giving. In fact, Filipino men are so transparent they still ask questions like “Can I court you?”
This, of course, is a big advantage to Filipino women. Early on, a woman can quickly sense if a relationship has a potential wedding date in the near future.
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Despite the sad truth that short, witty emails have replaced handwritten love letters of the past, it’s good to know that couples still follow the tried-and-tested rules of engagement. A Filipino wedding actually begins, way before the guy conjures the courage to ask the “big” question.
In modern Filipino society, we seem to see less and less of the pre-wedding tradition called the paninilbihan (servitude), where the man performs some chores for the woman’s family in order to show his worth, prove his intentions, and also act as an alternative to paying a dowry.
In the past, the suitor is often seen laboring around the house, doing chores likepag-igib ng tubig sa poso (fetching water from the pump), pagsibak ng kahoy(chopping of firewood), and paglampaso ng sahig (mopping the floor). Traditionally, it is often the father of the future bride who gives the orders. Today, however, the paninilbihan has been reduced to visiting the woman at home, fixing stuff around the house, and being invited to join family events.
Despite how ‘westernized’ we have become in the last century, even the most modern of Filipino couples still go through the process of asking The Question and offering The Ring. In the Philippines, the ring is a symbol of a deep commitment that denotes a lifetime of togetherness. In the past, our ancestors offer a dowry (dote / bigay kaya) to the family of his beloved to prove his sincerity and ability to provide for his future family.
While most traditional families still observe this age-old tradition, the engagement and / or heirloom ring of today (diamonds are still the most popular) is the symbolic representation of a dowry, which is given during the pamamanhikan.
The pamamanhikan stage, is when the families of the couple meet in one place (usually in the woman’s house) to witness the paghingi ng kamay (asking the woman’s hand in marriage). The man states his intentions before the woman’s family, and then the couple asks for both their families’ blessings. While thepamamanhikan stage can be very awkward for both families, this old tradition remains to be one of the most important stages in a Filipino wedding. Apart from discussing the wedding details, the pamamanhikan ensures that both families have the chance to get to know each other, before the wedding day.
Most importantly, Filipinos are a family-oriented people. It is important for them to obtain the parents’ blessings, prior to a lifetime commitment.
Now that the couple has received both their families’ blessings, it’s time to reach out to their clans. The act of “pa-alam” (notify) is different from “paalam”(goodbye). In the pa-alam stage, the couple informs their relatives about their upcoming wedding. Here, most couples pay courtesy visits to their prospective godparents (who also act as wedding councilors), bringing with them a token of their appreciation—like a basket of fruits or a box of chocolates.
The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic society. In the past, a soon-to-wed couple pays a visit to the priest, who will officiate their wedding ceremony. This tradition is called the “dulog” and is usually done to pay respect to the priest who heads the parish where the couple (or one of them) belongs. Today, however, it has become more of a pre-wedding requirement to see the couple’s readiness to become husband and wife.
The kasal kumpisal is another pre-wedding tradition that the couple observes a few days before their wedding day. It is their personal and moral obligation as single individuals to confess to their sins before a priest. This “spiritual cleansing” act releases them from their separate sins and readies them for the Sacrament of Marriage.
Perhaps the most awaited engagement ritual is the despedida de soltera (Spanish for ‘goodbye to spinsterhood’). Traditionally, the despedida de soltera involves both the bride and groom and their respective families. In the past, it is regarded as another ‘welcome to the family’ ritual prior to the wedding day, and often involves a formal dinner.
Today, of course, we call them the bachelor (stag) and bachelorette (bridal) parties, which are two separate events that involve only the closest relatives and friends (usually the secondary sponsors) of the soon-to-wed couple. The moderndespedida de soltera can range from bar hopping to scavenger hunts, complete with games and alcohol.
While the younger members of the family are wrapping their respective despedida de soltera, the older generation prepares a basket of fresh chicken eggs to offer to the patron saint of good weather, Sta. Clara. It is believed the Sta. Clara’s name (Spanish for ‘clear’ ) is the reason why people travel to the monastery of Sta. Clara in Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City to pray for clear skies on the wedding day, also known as the “pag-alay ng itlog kay Sta. Clara.”
For years, parishioners offer eggs to the nuns along with a note stating one’s request. The eggs are said to be “provisions” for the nuns but during the last decade, people have started to offer baskets of fruits as well.
THE OLD AND THE NEW: ELEMENTS OF A FILIPINO WEDDING
The Wedding Attire. In a traditional Filipiniana wedding, the bride wears a Maria Clara wedding gown, which originated from the conventional baro’t saya,and was named after the main mestiza character in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.
The Maria Clara wedding gown is made up of four parts: the camisa (a loose-fitting blouse with the “angel wings” sleeves); the pañuelo (a stiff, scarf-like accent that is worn over the camisa); the saya (a bubble-like, floor-length skirt); and thetapis (a knee-length skirt worn over the saya).
The groom, on the other hand, wears the traditional Barong Tagalog—made of the finest piña (pineapple) fabric and worn untucked. According to legend, the Spaniards made the Filipinos wear their shirts untucked to separate them from the upper (ruling) class. The translucent fabric of the barong also helped the Spaniards to see if the Filipinos are concealing any weapons under their shirts.
Today, a Filipina bride’s taste, when it comes to her wedding gown has become more refined. “The modern Filipina brides know what they want,” said wedding gown designer Boy Kastner Santos. “They come to you with an idea of what kind of gown [the bride] likes and brings pegs for inspiration. They are also more persistent on what they want.”
The Ceremony. During the pre-colonial period, a wedding ceremony is conducted in the house of a babaylan (village priest). It also stretches for three consecutive days and involves the prickling of the chests of the bride and the groom, the eating of cooked rice from the same plate, binding of hands and necks, and drinking of their blood (mixed with water) to symbolize their union.
In today’s predominantly Catholic world, modern Filipino weddings still observe traditional rites. The principal sponsors consists of godparents, relatives, and family friends whose presence mean a lot to the couple. The secondary sponsors are, more often than not, the couple’s closest peers. They are to participate in several parts of the ceremony.
The candle sponsors light the two candles at the altar. The bride and the groom then use these candles to light the Unity Candle, the light of which calls upon the Light of Christ and signifies the union of two families. The placing of the veil symbolizes two separate people dressed as one, while the cord (a silk cord calledyugal), which links the bride and the groom inside an 8-shaped figure, signifies eternal fidelity.
In a Filipino wedding, the groom hands 13 coins (also known as unity coins or arras), which have been blessed by the officiating priest, to his bride. This act symbolizes the groom’s ability as the breadwinner to provide for his wife and their future family. The 13 coins represent the months of the year, plus an extra coin that symbolizes luck for the couple year-round and beyond.
The Reception. In most parts of the country, a Filipino wedding is likened to a town fiesta — where the community joins the reception and partakes in the mouthwatering food selections like the traditional lechon, adobo, beef steak (bistek) Tagalog, fresh lumpia (lumpiang ubod), and, for desserts, buko salad and buko pandan.
These days, engaged couples are more particular when it comes to the food that will be served. Various catering companies offer a wide range of cuisine to suite the couple’s taste. Regardless of the theme, a Filipino wedding reception is always a feast.
Apart from the food, guests also look forward to the program. While modern weddings prefer to veer away from the traditional bouquet toss (which often makes single women head to the bathroom), this ritual originated from the belief that a bride tosses the bouquet to a friend for luck and safety.
The garter toss, on the other hand, dates back to the Middle Ages when guests, particularly the drunken men in the bridal party, try to tear the bridal gown as a good luck souvenir. In order to avoid ruining the gown, the bride would simply remove the bridal garter and toss it to the awaiting crowd.
Live butterflies have replaced the popular rice and petals confetti. According to an old American Indian legend, if you whisper your wish to a butterfly and set it free, the Great Spirit will grant your wish, in return for the butterfly’s freedom.
Lastly, the traditional money dance is still largely observed in Luzon. The money dance is when the guests, particularly the ninongs and ninangs, pin money bills on the clothing of the newlywed couple for wealth and happiness.
A LABOR OF LOVE
With the increasing number of professional wedding organizers, weddings in the Philippines continue to become more and more personalized. But the fact remains that each Filipino wedding—here and abroad, big and small—is a labor of love. While wedding coordinators have taken the stress of planning the entire event away from the couple and their families, a Filipino wedding is truly a sight to behold. From the details of the gowns to the setting of the tables, a Filipino wedding is a wonderful mix of the old and the new, the East and the West.