10 Filipino Wedding Traditions You Should Be Aware Of

A wedding pro weighs in on the ways these traditions are seen within modern Filipino nuptials.
Hannah Nowack The Knot Weddings Editor
by Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Editor, Real Weddings
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah oversees engagement content on The Knot's partner brand How They Asked.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated May 19, 2021

While wedding trends shift frequently, long-held cultural traditions are a constant in the world of weddings. Formed across many generations and always subtly evolving, traditions add a beautiful homage to your heritage within the wedding celebration. For wedding guests attending the nuptials of a Filipino couple, there are some common wedding traditions you should be aware of that the to-be-weds may include in the day. 

One of the most recognizable traditions in Filipino weddings is the veil and cord ritual often included in the wedding ceremony. Historically, however, Filipino weddings included many more formal rituals like an official courtship and engagement ceremony that acted as the first step of the wedding proceedings. Though some traditional Filipino nuptials may still include all these historical elements, Percy Sales, wedding planner and owner of Percy Sales Events, explains that "while Filipinos are rich in tradition and hold their culture to heart, when it comes to weddings, Filipinos have really modernized and moved toward Western rituals for their weddings, especially those who live in the United States or abroad (not in the motherland). While many kasalans (Filipino term for wedding) are still being held at churches, many are also opting for non-church weddings for their larger celebrations and doing more intimate and family-oriented ceremonies in their home church. But while modern Filipino couples are opting for non-traditional nuptials, a lot are still holding some traditions to heart and I think this makes their weddings richer and stands out from others." To give wedding guests a sense of what to expect at a Filipino wedding, we're taking a look at how historic Filipino wedding traditions have evolved over time and what many modern Filipino nuptials look like. 

In This Story: 

1. Celebration of Engagement 

Known as Panliligaw And Pamamanhikan in Tagalog, formal courtship and engagement were historically the first official steps in a Filipino wedding. In modern Filipino weddings, these pre-wedding practices are less formal and serve as more of a general celebration of the impending nuptials between families. "While the pamamanhikan may still be a part of the rituals in the Philippines, especially in rural communities, modern urban couples in the Philippines, the United States and abroad have really modernized this tradition to become more of an engagement celebration between the families," explains Sales. "Most modern families in the Philippines, United States and abroad tend to already have relationships with each other's families, so this tradition has morphed into more of a celebration of the engagement," as opposed to the formal introduction it once served as. 

2. Naming Godparents 

In the past, there was often a naming of sponsors that took place at Filipino weddings, but Sales explains that "what we don't see much of anymore is the naming of sponsors for the candle, veil and cord. This was used in the past as they were individuals or couples who helped pay for part of the wedding." However, it is still very commonplace to name Ninongs and Ninangs (godfathers and godmothers) as part of a couple's wedding party

3. Family Involvement 

Historically, there were traditions known as bulungan and bayanihan, however, Sales explains that both of those customs aren't regularly observed by modern couples. In the past, the bulungan was known as the whispering and dealt with budget allocations and covered a conversation between families about how the wedding was being paid for. Sales explains that "this is a dated ritual. Since many of the modern Filipino weddings are being paid for by the couple themselves and not necessarily by the family. This tradition is often something that is set between the couples and establishing a budget that works for them. The 'whispering' is more about not letting people know what you are doing and being discreet about your budget so you don't come off as mabayang or as a show off." Additionally, the bayanihan dealt with performing small and heroic acts in the community ahead of the wedding. Similar to the whispering, bayanihan has mostly fallen out of practice. "This is a dated tradition from when wedding planning was more a family and community task rather than something you can hire for," says Sales. "Filipino weddings have become westernized. The bayanihan or the spirit of the community for kasalans has been more modernized as far as support and input, rather than really doing it yourself. While people may still engage in this tradition, when it comes to DIY weddings, for the most part, it really has no significance in a modern Filipino couples wedding."

While the formal customs of bulungan and bayanihan are less commonly practiced these days, the involvement of family and community, which is a core part of those two traditions, is still very much valued within modern Filipino society and weddings. "One thing that is a must for Filipino to-be-weds is to make sure the family is involved in some way. It's an important tradition." 

4. Parental Blessings

A tradition that is still very important within modern Filipino weddings is the parental blessing. "Honoring your elders and parents is very much part of the Filipino wedding day. It's usually done through the wedding ceremony with blessings and also giving those individuals seats of honor throughout the celebration." Sales explains that seeking parental blessing during the nuptials is "about accepting who you are going to marry and also a sign of respect for your parents. It's often done with the mano (or raising the hand of your parents to your forehead) but for the most part, this is now a hug or a kiss, before they give you away to your partner," during the wedding ceremony. 

5. Cord and Veil

The cord and veil are two of the most visually recognizable elements of a Filipino wedding ceremony. "The veil and cord is still a tradition that we see today," notes Sales. During the ritual, the couple will be draped together in a lace veil and white cord. "The veil symbolizes oneness and protection for your marriage while the cord symbolizes eternity and unity. This is usually part of the ceremony where your Ninongs and Ninangs (godfathers and godmothers) participate and they are usually chosen because of the strength of their marriage to help guide your own." 

6. 13 Coins 

Known as arras, there is a tradition of exchanging 13 coins during a Filipino wedding ceremony. "The arras is a symbol of providing," says Sales. "It's usually handed from the groom to the bride as a symbol of prosperity and one's oath to provide to each other. While in the past this has usually been just passed from the groom to the bride, we are now seeing it being passed from the groom to the bride and back to the groom as a symbol of each other's commitment to providing for each other. The coins are usually brought up by a coin bearer, similar to a ring bearer." 

7. Unity Candle

During traditional Filipino wedding ceremonies, couples will often light a unity candle together. "The unity candle symbolizes two souls and two families coming together," advises Sales. "Two separate flames or candles are lit by the mothers or the designated family member. The two candles are given to the bride and groom to light one unity candle and then the two flames are blown out."

8. Wedding Reception

Filipino wedding receptions are known as Handaan. Historically, rice cakes were a major part of the menu at the reception, however, modern Filipino weddings often include all sorts of food. "Filipino wedding food has been pretty much westernized and couples are just opting for good food. Some other Filipinos still delve into their Chinese roots and will host a Chinese banquet as part of their wedding day, but for the most part, the wedding banquet is pretty much what we see with many weddings, with the infusion of Filipino desserts. The exchange of rice cakes is done regionally. The rice cake tradition, when done, symbolizes a couple sticking together."

Another custom that used to be common within Filipino wedding receptions but is seen less and less in modern events is the money dance. "I think this trend is becoming rarer. While some other couples still opt for this, the money dance is a way to help the couple start a strong financial life together. The money is pinned on the clothes of the bride and groom."

When it comes to the decor at Filipino wedding receptions, couples may opt to include Sampaguita, a type of Jasmine that is the national flower of the Philippines, in their floral arrangements. 

9. Traditional Filipino Wedding Attire

Grooms at Filipino weddings often wear an outfit known as Barong Tagalog. The look includes an embroidered long-sleeve sheer shirt paired with slacks. While Filipino brides historically wore Baro't Saya, a wedding dress with dramatic puffy sleeves, it's common in modern weddings for brides to wear more westernized wedding dresses. When it comes to wedding attire, Sales notes that there is one superstition to be aware of: "It's bad luck for the bride to try on her wedding dress before the wedding." 

10. Filipino Wedding Superstitions 

Beyond the superstition of a bride not trying on her wedding dress, there are a few other Filipino wedding superstitions to be aware of. "Siblings should not get married in the same year as it's considered bad luck," says Sales. "Additionally, if the unity candle blows out the person closest to it will die, don't buy the couple knives or sharp objects as gifts as it symbolizes quarrel or bad luck, rain is a sign of prosperity on your wedding day, and don't drop the ring veil cord or arras as it symbolizes a miserable wedding." 

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