Marriage and wedding customs in the Philippines

A Filipino wedding held in December at the Manila Cathedral in the Philippines.

Traditional marriage customs in the Philippines and Filipino wedding practices pertain to the characteristics of marriage and wedding traditions established and adhered to by Filipino men and women in the Philippines after a period of courtship and engagement. These traditions extend to other countries around the world where Filipino communities exist. Kasalan is the Filipino word for "wedding"[1], while its root word  – kasal  – means "marriage".[2] The present-day character of marriages and weddings in the Philippines were primarily influenced by the permutation of native, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Spanish[1], and American models.


Historical overview

A typical ancient traditional Filipino wedding, during pre-colonial times, is held for three days and was officiated by a babaylan, a tribal priest or priestess.[3][4] The house of the babaylan was the ceremonial center for the nuptial. On the first day, the couple was brought to the priest's home, where the babaylan blesses them, while their hands are joined over a container of uncooked rice. On the third day, the priest would prick their chests to draw a small amount of blood, which will be placed on a container to be mixed with water. After announcing their love for each other for three times, they were fed by the priest with cooked rice coming from a single container. Afterwards, they were to drink the water that was mixed with their blood. The priest proclaimed that they are officially wed after their necks and hands were bound by a cord or ,sometimes, once their long hairs had been entwined together.[3][4] In lieu of the babaylan, the datu or a wise elder may also officiate a pre-colonial Filipino wedding.[4]

After the ceremony, while at the just-married couple's residence, a series of gift-exchanging rituals was also done to counter the negative responses of the bride: if asked to enter her new home, if she refuses to go up the stairs of the dwelling, if she denies to participate in the marriage banquet, or even to go into her new bedroom, a room she would be sharing with her spouse.[4]

Spanish colonialism brought changes to these marriage rituals because of the teachings and conversion efforts of Spanish missionaries, which occurred as early as the 18th century. As a result, the majority of current-day Filipino weddings became predominantly Christian or Catholic[4] in character, which is also because of the mostly Catholic population, although indigenous traditions still exist today in other regions of the Philippines.[4] Parts of Filipino wedding ceremonies have become faith-centered and God-centered, which also highlights the concept that the joining of two individuals is a "life long commitment" of loving and caring.[1][2] In general, the marriage itself does not only signify the union of two persons, but also the fusion of two families, and the unification two clans.[5]


The following are the legal requirements that must be met in order to marry in the Philippines.[6][7] To be specific, the exact wordings as stated in Philippine marriage law are presented below:

  • Legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female, 18 years old and above without any impediment to get married.[6][7]
  • Consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer.
  • Authority of the solemnizing officer (only incumbent member of the judiciary; priest, rabbi, imam, or minister of any church or religious sect duly authorized by his church or religious sect and registered with the civil registrar general; ship captain or airplane chief, military commander of a unit to which a chaplain is assigned, in the absence of the latter, during a military operation only in marriages at the point of death; and consul-general, consul or vice-consul only between Filipino citizens abroad are authorized by law to solemnize marriage).[6]

Marriage law in the Philippines also requires couples to attend a seminar[6] on family planning before the wedding day in order to become responsible family life and parenthood. The seminar is normally conducted at a city hall or a municipal council.[5]

Some officiating ministers or churches require the couple to present a certificate of no marriage record (CENOMAR), on top of or together with the marriage license and the authority of the solemnizing officer. The CENOMAR can be secured from the National Statistics Office or its designated offices and branches.[8]

Marriage proposal

The traditional marriage proposal takes the form of the pamanhikan[3] or pamamanhikan or the "parental marriage proposal", a formal way of asking the parents of the woman for her hand. The would-be groom and his parents go to the would-bride's home, and ask the parents for their consent. Once the woman's parents accept the proposal, other matters will be discussed during this meeting include among other things, the wedding plan, the date, the finances, and the list of guests. The expenses for the wedding are generally shouldered by the groom and his family.[2]

Pamamanhikan enforces the importance of the familial nature of the wedding, as traditionally a marriage is the formation of an alliance between two clans as well as the joining of individuals. This is sometimes further expressed in how the whole extended family goes with the groom and his parents, using the occasion as a chance to meet and greet the other clan. In this situation, there is a feast held at the bride's family home.

This event is separate from the Despedida de Soltera (Spanish: "Farewell to Single-hood") party some families have before the wedding. The local variant of the Hispanic custom normally holds it for the bride, and it is held by her family. It is similar in sentiment to the hen night, albeit a more wholesome and formal version.

Wedding announcement

After the pamamanhikan, the couple performs the pa-alam or "wedding announcement visitations". In this custom, the couple goes to the homes of relatives to inform the latter of their status as a couple and the schedule of their nuptial. It is also during this visits when the couple personally delivers their wedding invitations.[9]

Wedding date and invitation

The typical Filipino wedding invitation contains the date and venue for the wedding ceremony and for the wedding reception, as well as the names and roles of the principal sponsors of the bride. Weddings in the Philippines are commonly held during the month of June.[2]

Ceremonial protocol

Wedding attire

Barong Tagalog
A Filipino groom wearing a collarless version of the Barong Tagalog.

Bride's garment

The Filipino bride's attire is typically made of a custom-made white wedding gown.[1] This is from the American influence of dressing the woman on her wedding day.[2]

Groom's apparel

The Filipino groom's clothing is the Barong Tagalog, a formal and traditional transparent, embroidered and button-up shirt made from jusi (also spelled as husi) fabric made from pineapple fibers.[1] This formal Filipino male's apparel is worn untucked[10] with a white T-shirt beneath, and over a black pair of pants.

Wedding ceremony

Generally, the wedding ceremony proper in the Philippines includes the celebration of a one-hour long mass. The Filipino groom arrives one hour earlier than the Filipina bride for the purpose of receiving wedding guests at the church. The bride will arrive later onboard a wedding car, then gets off the vehicle to meet her waiting groom. The groom could be waiting with his parents. Afterwards, the groom and the bride performs the bridal procession or the wedding march.[2] During the nuptial, the bride holds an heirloom rosary along with her traditional bridal bouquet.[2]

Ceremonial sponsors, witnesses, and participants

The principal wedding sponsors  – also known as special sponsors, primary sponsors, counselors, or witnesses[6] of the marriage ceremony  – chosen by the would-be spouses normally includes a multiple set of pairs of godparents (typically a total of 12 individual godparents composed of 6 godmothers or ninang, and 6 godfathers or ninong[5]). Chosen secondary sponsors are made up of the bridesmaids, groomsmen, and 3 more pairs of wedding attendants. The wedding attendants are responsible for the special parts of lighting the wedding candles, placing the veil and the cords on the couple being wed.[1][2] Other official ceremonial participants are children, usually males, with the role of being the coin bearer and the ring bearer.[2]

Ceremonial paraphernalia

Ceremonial paraphernalia in Filipino weddings include the wedding rings, the wedding arrhae, the wedding candles, the wedding veils, and the wedding cord.[1][2] The ring bearer acts as the holder and keeper of the rings until the exchanging of rings is performed, while the coin bearer acts as the holder and keeper of the arrhae until it is offered and given by the groom to his bride.[2] Among the secondary sponsors or wedding attendants, three pairs  – each pair consists of a male and female secondary sponsors  – are chosen to function as lighters of the wedding candles, handlers of the wedding veils, and placers of the wedding cord.[2]

Wedding rings and the arrhae

After the exchange of wedding rings by the couple, the groom gives the wedding arrhae to his bride. The arrhae is a symbol of his "monetary gift" to the bride because it is composed of 13 pieces of gold, or silver, coins, a "pledge" that the groom is devoted to the welfare and well-being of his wife and future offspring. Both rings and arrhae are blessed first by the priest during the wedding.[2]

Wedding candles

The lighters of the wedding candles, known as the candle sponsors, light the pair of candles, one on each side of the couple. For Christians, this embodies the presence of God in the marital union.

Many weddings add the ritual of the "unity candle" which signifies the joining of their two families. The couple takes the two lighted candles and together lights a single candle. For Christians, lighting this single candle symbolizes the invocation of Jesus Christ into their life as a married couple.[1][2] The use of the unity candle is rooted in Protestant and American culture.[2]

Wedding veils

After the ritual of lighting candles, a pair of secondary sponsors known as the veil sponsors will pin the veil(s) on the couple. Two forms of this tradition exist, with either one long, white-coloured veil draped over the shoulder of the groom and above the bride's head,[1] or pinning two separate veils, one on the groom's shoulder and the other on the bride. The veiling ritual signifies the clothing of two individuals who have become one due to the ceremony of marriage.[2]

Wedding cord

After the veiling ritual, the pair of secondary sponsors, known as the cord sponsors, will then drape a cord over the shoulders of the groom and the bride. This decorative cord is called the yugal and is customarily shaped or looped to form the figure 8 (or alternately, the infinity sign), to symbolise "everlasting fidelity".[1][2] Each loop of the cord is placed around the invidual neck-and-shoulder area of the bride and the groom.

Apart from silk, other popular materials are used to make the wedding cord such as a string of flowers, links of coins, or a cord designed like a long rosary.

Wedding reception

During the wedding reception, it is typical to release a pair of white male and female doves, symbolising marital harmony and peace.[1] These are placed in a cage or receptacle, which can be opened by pulling ribbons or cords or manually opened and released by the couple themselves. After their release from their cage[1], the person who catches them may take them home to rear as pets.

Tossing the bouquet is for the most part uncommon for the bride to do though it is increasingly being observed by younger couples. Instead, the bride traditionally offers it at a side altar or image of either the Virgin Mary, a patron saint, or leaves it at the grave of a significant deceased relative.[2]

Filipino Muslim wedding

A wedding dance performed by a Yakan couple from Mindanao.

Filipino Muslims in the Mindanao region of the Philippines commonly practice pre-arranged marriages and betrothal. These marital discussions involve the agreement on the dowry.[11] The Tausog people's wedding include the pangalay, a celebration or announcement performed by means of the playing of percussion instruments like as the gabbang, the kulintang, and the agong. Included in the wedding ceremony that is officiated by an Imam are readings taken from the Qur'an and the placement of the groom's fingerprint on the forehead of the bride.

Same sex marriage

Marriage between couples of the same sex is currently not possible under the laws of the Philippines because, according to the Filipino Family Code, both family and marriage are considered as heterosexual units. The legal concept of a family in the Philippines does not incorporate homosexual relationships. Furthermore, finding that a party to the marital union is either homosexual or lesbian is a ground for annulment of the marriage and legal separation in the Philippines, which leads to the severance of the homosexual individual's spousal inheritance, claims to any conjugal property, and the custody of offspring.[12]

Wedding superstitions

Filipinos have also developed superstitions that are related to marriage and weddings.[3][4]

Pre-colonial Filipino superstitions include the groom or the bride should avoid traveling before the nuptial to prevent accidents from happening[3], the bride must not wear pearls as these are similar to tears[3], performing a procession composed of men holding bolo knives and musicians playing agongs to drive away evil spirits. This march was also carried out after the wedding ceremony until the newly-wed couple reaches their abode. The purpose of this procession is similar to the current practice of breaking plates during the wedding reception, in order to shoo away bad luck.[3][4]

During Spanish colonization, the Spaniards introduced new superstitions, such as the avoidance of activities that may cause broken marriages or sadness and regret. These include not wearing wedding gowns in advance[3], not wearing garments that are colored black,not offering sharp objects as gifts.[3][4]

Other Filipino beliefs include that typhoons occurring on wedding days may bring bad fortune; that  – after the wedding ceremony  – the bride should walk ahead of her husband or step on his foot to prevent being dominated by the male spouse; that an extinguished candle during the ceremony served as an omen that the groom or the bride will die soon (depending on which candle was smothered by the wind, the one at the groom's side or the bride's side)[3]; and that an accidentally dropped wedding ring, wedding veil, or wedding arrhae will cause marital misery.[4]

Superstitious beliefs that provide good fortune include showering the married couple with uncooked rice because this wishes them a prosperous life together[3]; the groom's arrival prior to his bride's coming at the wedding venue also diminishes dire fate.[3] In addition, a single woman who will follow the footsteps of a newly-married couple may enhance her opportunity to become a bride herself.[4]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Philippine Wedding,
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Wedding planning: Filipino Wedding Traditions, Information on the characteristics of a traditional Filipino Wedding,
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Philippine Wedding Culture and Superstitions,
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Funtecha, Henry F. IIlonggo Traditional Marriage Practices (2), Bridging the Gap, The News Today,, June 23, 2006.
  5. ^ a b c Daza, Jullie Y. "I Went to Your Wedding", High Profile, The Magazine of PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation), Issue 3, Fall 2009, page 82.
  6. ^ a b c d e Stritof, Sheri and Bob Stritof. Philippines Marriage License Information, Getting Married in The Republic of The Philippines, Guide,
  7. ^ a b Stritof, Sheri and Bob Stritof. Philippine Marriage License Information, Guide,
  8. ^ CENOMAR from Weddings at Work (W@W). Retrieved on 4 March 2010, 14:54
  9. ^ Pa-alam or the Wedding Announcement, Filipino Wedding Traditions and Spanish Influence,
  10. ^ Barong Tagalog,
  11. ^ Courtship in the Philippines Today, SarahGats's Blog,, March 29, 2009
  12. ^ Hunt, Dee Dicen and Cora Sta. Ana-Gatbonton. Filipino Sexuality, Filipino Women and Sexual Violence: Speaking Out and Providing Services,


External links

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