Go to any wedding in the Philippines and you’ll notice a beautiful mix of traditions that feels both different yet familiar. There’s the church venue that dates back to the Spanish colonial period. Or the use of native tropical flowers as corsages or bouquets. But there could also be a first dance choreographed to the couple’s favorite Hollywood musical, or the very essential cutting of the cake like what Western couples do in London or Los Angeles. What we call the Filipino wedding today has been the result of centuries of native and foreign influence, from folk, to Catholic, Chinese, Islamic, and most recently, American customs.
About to get hitched Filipino-style? There’s plenty of interesting options to choose from and include in your ceremony.
Stlll, there are no hard and fast rules as to how the Filipino wedding is done - so feel free to pick and choose! Get to know the different Filipino wedding traditions below and create something that uniquely reflects you and your partner.
Panliligaw And Pamamanhikan: From Partner to Family Courtship
Traditionally, the period of panliligaw (courtship) has a man woo his partner to eventually win her hand in marriage. Young men, especially in rural areas, would do this by way of harana (serenade), where they would sing underneath women’s’ bedroom windows at night. Once a couple eventually reaches a deeper stage of commitment, the kasunduan (engagement) soon follows, today symbolized by the wearing of matching rings.
A suitor, together with friends, attempting to woo a young woman by way of harana. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
He (and his family) will then visit the woman’s house for the pamamanhikan, where the groom-to-be lays out his intentions for marriage, in front of her family members. Once the woman’s family gives their blessing, plans for the wedding will naturally follow, from the budget to the guest list.
Pre-Wedding: Who’s Going, And Who Are They Wearing?
Like in other Asian cultures, Filipino weddings are big, grand celebrations due to their family-oriented nature. The extended family is almost always invited, many of whom form the ninongs and ninangs (godparents or sponsors) for the ceremony. Thus, invitations are often lengthy and informative, indicating the “who’s who” of the entourage. In Catholic or Christian services, children are also included as ring, coin, and Bible bearers.
In terms of clothing, picking out the perfect white dress has become a standard practice, as is choosing the right suit or tuxedo. In more classic, Filipiniana weddings, brides might wear a traditional dress called the terno, composed of an intricately patterned blouse, skirt, and scarf made of pineapple fiber. Meanwhile, grooms will commonly wear a Barong Tagalog, an embroidered, lightweight shirt made of the same material. Whether by Vera Wang or a local tailor, the choice of fashion is still an essential matter to some families.
Another important element is the venue, as many Filipinos dream of getting wed in a church, at literally whatever the cost. However, civil weddings are more common than we think, given the relative ease of getting married in court, the prohibitive expenses involved when organizing a church ceremony, and LGBTQ+ weddings.
Once everything has been settled, the bride’s family will then hold a despedida de soltera, a send-off similar to a bachelorette’s party a night before the big day.
The Main Event And Its Many Intricacies
Long before the Spaniards set foot on Philippine soil, the native wedding was a three-day extravaganza, filled with folk rituals that included the blessing of rice grains, the drawing of blood, and the symbolic binding of the couple by cord. While celebrations have since become simplified, many of these pre-colonial customs remain, flavored with more Hispanicized and Americanized traditions.
Today, a typical Filipino wedding consists of the following rituals: a candle lighting, a coin blessing, a veiling, the tying of the nuptial cord, as well as the throwing of rice grains. During the candle ceremony, the ninong and ninang would light the couple's candles, who then light up a larger, middle candle as a sign of unity. Catholic in origin, it signifies Jesus Christ as the Light of The World, ever-present during the couple’s marriage. The three candles, on the other hand, are a reminder that this commitment takes 3 to be complete - the 2 partners and God.
After lighting the couple’s candles, the ninong and ninang (godparents or sponsors) will then light up a larger middle candle as a sign of unity.
The coin ceremony meanwhile represents the couple’s sharing of worldly goods, for richer or poorer. Here, sponsors would present the wedding officiator with 13 coins (also called Las Arras or Arrhae), which represent Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles, then trickling them into the hands of both partners.
Then would come the veiling ceremony, which in itself signifies humility, that God will help them shoulder any burdens they might encounter during their marriage. Here, sponsors would clothe the couple as one, placing the veil on the shoulders of the groom and on the bride’s head.
The tying of the nuptial cord. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
For the tying of the nuptial cord (also known as the Yugal), two sponsors would help bind the couple together, placing a silk lasso (or flower strands or a special rosary) over the couple’s heads. Ideally, these would be tied in a figure eight, which looks similar to the infinity sign.
Once the ceremony ends and the newlyweds step out of the venue, both of them are showered by rice grains, as a way to wish for prosperity, luck, and happiness to the couple.
The Handaan, AKA The Big Fat Filipino Wedding Reception
As the feast held in honor of the newlyweds, the handaan, or the reception caps off the ceremonies, similar to Western weddings. Here, you’ll likely encounter many of your Filipino food favorites, including the lechon (roast pig), lumpia (spring rolls), adobo (meat marinated in soy sauce and vinegar), as well as native rice-based desserts.
The traditional money dance at a Filipino wedding reception. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
During the handaan, the newlyweds are also expected to hold their first dance, where guests usually tape or pin paper bills on their clothes as cash gifts. A pair of doves will also be released to symbolize the couple’s eternal love. Other Western traditions have since been integrated in the reception, including the bouquet and garter toss, the cutting of the cake, as well as ceremonial toasts from well-wishing guests.
Indeed, the Filipino wedding has proven itself to be an important symbol, not just of love, but the many cultural customs the Philippines has since adopted. Today, the joy in this ceremony lies in choosing which traditions to follow yourself, while creating something new you and your partner can uniquely call your own.