Filipino Pre-Wedding Traditions
Before we go and enumerate the various pre-wedding customs that we Filipinos have, we will first have a run down of the entire process prior the engagement.
Gone are the days of "pikot" (shotgun marriage) and "kasunduan" (arranged marriage by parents) where both the bride and groom had no choice but to comply. Traditionally though, even in this day and age, "ligawan" (courtship) still exists. "Harana" (suitor's serenade) used to form part of this ritual but nowadays, it's usually love letters (or emails ;-), flowers, chocolates or simply, dating! But when do they officially become a couple? Decades ago, a girl may be expected to say 'Yes' first just so that the guy would know that she agrees. Nowadays, well . . . they just know.
After going steady ("magkasintahan") for quite a time and the couple wants to cross over from being single to getting married, then the following are some points to consider:
Pagtatapat - The Marriage Proposal
"Will you marry me?" or variations of those four significant keywords signals the possible beginning of a much-awaited grand celebration. After all, nobody wants to get married without first being asked. For would-be-grooms who may be lost for words, below can do the talking for them . . .
Singsing - The Engagement Ring
Normally, an average Filipino man is wary about giving a ring as a gift on ordinary occasions for he's concerned that his girlfriend might get the wrong impression because rings (especially those of the gemstone-laden species) tend to speak of a deeper commitment. The engagement ring is not a requisite to marriage but more of an option (that most brides surely wouldn't mind). It is both an adaptation of the Western custom and a modern incarnation of the male's pre-colonial practice of giving dowry to his future wife (and her family) to signify his intentions. The ring is usually given simultaneously with the proposal (note: guys, don't give it until she says 'Yes'!) in a romantic ambience. The most popular choice for the 'rock' is the diamond for it is the hardest wearing gemstone but a ring with her birthstone will do (read more about diamonds and other birthstones). Some traditional and sentimental Filipino families even insist on having their son offer a treasured family heirloom as an engagement ring to symbolize her acceptance and his family's approval. In such cases, it would be better to hand over the ring during the pamanhikan.
Pamanhikan - asking the girl's parents for their daughter's hand
The 'blueprint' of the wedding plans are drawn or made known on this occasion. The pamanhikan is often hosted by the bride's family while the groom and his parents visit the bride's family to formally ask for her hand in marriage and to discuss plans for the upcoming wedding over lunch or dinner. This can be a really uneasy situation if it's the first time for both sets of parents to meet. The groom- and bride-to-be may feel a little awkward (nervous even) seeing and listening to each parents consult each other face-to-face on matters like their wedding budget, guest list and the likes. It is customary that the the visiting family bring a gift (often, the mother's best home-cooked specialty) for the hosts. Others may opt to hold the meeting on a 'neutral ground' (a restaurant is a likely choice) or invite a mutual acquaintance to the gathering and help ease the first meeting. Why bother with all the trouble? Filipinos seek their folks' blessings for a happy and hassle-free marriage. Afterall, pamanhikan is a treasured Filipino heritage which, first and foremost, avoids the awkward situation of having the parents see each other as strangers come the wedding day.
Paninilbihan - service rendered by the man to woo the girl's family's approval
Paninilbihan is said to be a long forgotten tradition where the marrying man attends to some daunting chores for the bride's family to show his worth, fortitude and responsibility. The fact is, it is still sub-conciously practiced by the modern Filipino society on a much simpler scale (thank goodness!). Since Filipinos parents prefer to see their daughter's boyfriend pay a visit to the house rather than date elsewhere, he is more-or-less considered a part of the household rather than a guest. So it comes as no surprise when the family members ask for simple favors from him such as driving the girl's mom to the supermarket or fixing broken lights in the kitchen. Come to think of it, future sons-or-daughters-in-law are expected to run some simple errands for their would-be-in-laws if he/she seeks some approval. These little favors forms part of the paninilbihan process still deeply imbibed in the Filipino psyche.
Pa-alam - wedding announcement, the Filipino way
The practice of pa-alam (to inform) should not be confused with the Pilipino word "paalam" (goodbye). Though less formal than the pamanhikan, pa-alam is still a gesture appreciated by Filipino elders as a sign of respect. This is a practice of visiting important personages (mostly elder relatives not present during the pamanhikan) prior to the wedding. Couples may go out of their way to visit the person to inform about the upcoming wedding (they may choose to hand over the wedding invitation at this time) or approach the person during a social event (say, a family reunion) to formally let him/her know of the recent engagement. If the altar-bound couple will be visiting a prospective ninong or ninang (godparents or principal sponsors) for the wedding, it is customary to bring a little something for the person to be visited (a tropical fruit basket is a popular choice). Since the 'major hurdle' is over with after the pamanhikan, pa-alam should be a breeze, though some elders may ask about the couple's love story, give a 'litany' about married life, or ask the groom-to-be about his work or family background. Basically, the practice is just a round of casual diplomatic visits to the people who matter most to the couple and inform them of the wedding and secure their blessings.
Despedida de Soltera - farewell to singlehood
The despedida de soltera is a send-off party held close to the wedding date in honor of the daughter of the house hosted by her family. This celebrates her family's consent to the marriage and the bestowal of her folks' blessings. The groom, his family, close friends & relatives from both sides and the wedding entourage are invited to meet and get to know one another before the wedding. The occasion may serve as the formal introduction of the two families or clans to each other. This affair can be anything from a formal sit-down dinner to a casual get-together party.
Alay ng Itlog kay Sta. Clara - egg offerings to Saint Claire
Although a rain shower is believed to bring bountiful blessings to a marrying couple, many still prefer a bright and warm wedding day. Ironic as it sounds, modern Catholic Filipino couples troop to the monastery of St. Claire to offer eggs to the patron saint and request the nuns to pray that their wedding day be rain-free. Other couples may consider other food/fruit offerings for even our beloved nuns know an egg too many is too much cholesterol.
Kumpisal - confession before marriage
This is more of a moral obligation than a tradition that should be observed by every marrying Catholic couple. A few days prior their wedding, couples should have their final confessions as single persons with a priest (not necessarily the one who is going to officiate their wedding) since they will partake in the bread and drink the wine (the Body and Blood of Christ) during the wedding ceremony. The confession serves as a spiritual cleansing for the sins committed during singlehood and a commitment and devotion to their lifetime partner.