Filipino Wedding Customs and Traditions

The Philippines Islands have one of largest Christian-majority population among all the countries of Asia. At the same time though many ethnic rituals continue to survive in their culture and one of the most beautiful instances of this interweaving is seen in Filipino weddings.

The matchmaking process

In the earlier days, as a way of proposing matrimony, a man would throw a spear at the front of the house of the girl he wished to marry. This act would symbolize her unavailability and begin the engagement process. Even though such dramatic gestures are no longer common, a traditional Filipino wedding still goes back to the matchmaking process. This includes the parents of the groom-to-be going with the marriage proposal the parents of the woman for her hand and is known as the ‘pamanhikan’ or ‘pamamanhikan’ meaning the "parental marriage proposal. Once the woman's parents accept the proposal, other matters the wedding plan, the date, the finances, and the list of guests are brought up for discussion. The Pamamanhikan reveals the familial nature of Filipino weddings, as here a marriage is not only the joining of two individuals but the formation of an alliance between two clans as well.

After the pamamanhikan, the couple performs the pa-alam or "wedding announcement visitations". In this custom, the engaged man and woman go to the homes of relatives to inform the latter of their status as a couple and the scheduled wedding date. It is also during this visit when the couple personally deliver their wedding invitations.

The wedding dress

Traditionally, a Filipino bride would wear her best dress on her day of matrimony which could be of any color but usually made from rich expensive fabric. Her groom would wear the customary marriage clothes of black pants and an embroidered shirt made of an almost translucent fabric and known as the ‘barong tagalog’ which is still the traditional Filipino formal wear. Today, as a result of American influence Filipino bride usually wears a white wedding dress on her day of matrimony, while her groom could be wearing a black tuxedo. One of the most important signifiers of Filipino weddings is the orange blossom, bunches of which are used for wedding bouquets and church decorations.

The Wedding ceremony

Modern Filipino weddings follow the basics of the Catholic wedding ceremony including an approximately hour-long mass. The groom usually arrives before the Filipina bride for the purpose of receiving wedding guests at the church. After the bride arrives, the couple performs the bridal procession or the wedding march. During the nuptial, the bride usually holds an heirloom rosary along with her traditional bridal bouquet.

A Filipino wedding has a system of ‘sponsors’ chosen from immediate and extended family members who are given the charge of supervising certain aspects of the wedding ceremony, like the presenting of the arrhae, lighting of the unity candle and the draping of the wedding veil.

Presenting of the arrhae

An important aspect of the Filipino wedding is the presenting of the wedding arrhae by the groom to his bride. After the exchange of wedding rings by the couple, the groom gives the wedding arrhae, which has been blessed by the priest, to his bride. The arrhae is composed of 13 pieces of gold or silver coins, and symbolizes a "pledge" that he will look after the material needs of wife and future offspring.

Lighting of the wedding candle

In this wedding ritual, the candle “sponsors” light two separate candles - one on each side of the couple – which the bride and groom use to light a single unity candle, thus symbolizing the joining of two individuals in marriage, the two families in a marital relationship and above all, to invoke the light of Christ in their married life.

Draping of the wedding veil

After the lighting of the wedding candle, it is the turn of the “veil sponsors” to take over. This ritual involves the draping of a single long white veil over the shoulder of the groom and above the bride's head in a symbolic gesture of two people clothed as one after marriage. An alternate version of this custom has the bride and groom being draped with separate veils but being pinned to each other.

Placing of the wedding cord

After the veil ceremony, a decorative cord is draped over the shoulders of the groom and the bride. This cord is known as the yugal and is typically shaped or looped to form the figure 8 or alternately, the infinity sign, thus symbolizing "everlasting fidelity" of the newlywed couple to each other. The cord is usually made of silk but could also be made from a string of flowers, a chain of coins or even from a long rosary.

The wedding reception

One of the most interesting customs associated with Filipino wedding receptions involves the newlywed couple to release a pair of white doves as a way of symbolizing the aspiration to peace, happiness and prosperity. The doves are usually kept in a cage decorated as a wedding bell and can either by opened manually or by pulling a ribbon or cord.

The traditional dance at Filipino wedding reception is the Pandanggo in which guests pin money to the newlyweds representing the wish that good fortune "rains" upon them, while also helping the couple financially as they begin their life together.

Muslim Filipino weddings

The Muslim community in Philippines especially in the Mindanao region mainly follow the customs associated with an Islamic wedding. However here too certain ethnic Filipino elements can be witnessed, like the ‘pangalay’ among the Tausog people which is a celebration or announcement performed by means of the playing of local percussion instruments. 

Filipino weddings thus may incorporate some degree of variations on account of religions and tribal customs differences but all of them include the music, feasting as well as the larger community as part of wedding traditions.