9 Tips to Help You Survive a Traditional Filipino Wedding

Filipino couple | © George Ruiz / Flickr
Filipino couple | © George Ruiz / Flickr
Filipino weddings are a fiesta of family, food, and uninterrupted merrymaking. Whether you’re a Filipino attending your nth wedding or a foreign first-timer wanting to guarantee you’re all prepped for the big event, these tips and reminders will come in handy for the joyous chaos that is the Filipino wedding.

Bring a hand fan

Yes, this is first on the list. Bring a hand fan to a Filipino wedding, especially if the ceremony will be taking place outdoors. The hot and humid Philippine climate is merciless and will ruin your make-up and outfit before the affair even starts. Today, some considerate couples already take this into account and have hand fans laid out on every seat. Also, while making sure to adhere to the dress code (garden chic, cocktail, black tie, etc.), try to dress in cooler, lightweight material, and you’ll be be glad you did later on. So unless you’re sure the entire wedding is taking place indoors, with great ventilation and air conditioning, don’t leave the house without a hand fan.

Hand fan on chair © Bev Sykes / Flickr

Don’t let the hodgepodge of cultures and traditions confuse you

Considering the country’s long history with several colonizers, it has taken various practices from each one. So a Filipino wedding will usually abide by ancient Filipino superstitions (e.g. no two weddings within immediate family shall happen in the same year, or some brides will still refuse to try on their wedding dress before the big day), and it will usually begin with a lengthy Catholic church ceremony, followed by a reception with practices that take after American weddings.

Church ceremony at Filipino wedding © deejaymarlon / Flickr

Get ready to meet relatives you never knew you had

Filipino weddings are usually massive because in the Philippines, everyone is family. Somehow, someway, you’ll end up related to the person sitting across from you at your table. Elders will likely be coming up to you saying they’re related to or know your parents from this or that. So be prepared with your default smile and your best, “Oh yes of course, hello, tita!”.

Wedding guests waiting outside the church © James Byrum / Flickr

Learn the titles used for elders

This one’s for non-Filipinos attending Filipino friends’ weddings. Aside from bracing yourselves for their massive Filipino family, it will help to know how to address them, especially the elders. Filipinos highly regard their elders and give a lot of importance to respect. The first-name basis is reserved almost exclusively for peers and people within the same age group. So here’s the breakdown for you: Lola = grandmother, Lolo = grandfather, Tita = aunt, Tito = uncle, Ate = older sister, Kuya = older brother. These titles are used according to age group, regardless of whether or not they are actually related to you. So an elderly woman would be called lola and a man some years older than you, though not old enough to be your uncle, would be called kuya. When in doubt, just pay attention to how someone of your age addresses the other person and follow suit!

Expect an all-night photoshoot

To say Filipinos adore taking photos would be an understatement. They love it so much, Manila was even crowned the “Selfie Capital of the World”. An important term to familiarize yourself with is “wacky”. A proper, formal group photo is almost always followed by the “wacky shot”, where everyone breaks character with exaggerated movements and facial expressions. So come prepared with your best poses and flaunt your best angles — you can be sure everyone else will.

"Wacky" wedding group photo © Deejaymarlon / Flickr

Come with a big appetite and an empty stomach

If there’s anything Filipinos love more than photos, it would most definitely be food. Unless it’s a plated, multi-course dinner served directly to guests at each table, expect a grand feast of lechon, countless ulam (viands), and overflowing rice. Also expect people to be calling out “second round!”, referring to a second trip back to the buffet table, and elders repeatedly inviting you to refill your plate with, “O, kain pa!” (“Come on, eat some more!”). And don’t worry about the extra calories — you’ll burn them all on the dance floor.

Wear/bring comfy shoes

A dance party is inevitable at Filipino weddings. Because the food and booze never runs low, everyone is well-fuelled for the entire night. How adept you are at dancing will hardly matter. The important thing is that you’re always up for a dance when a tita pulls you out of your chair.

Dancing at a wedding © Hydropeek / Flickr

Have answers prepared for the unavoidable tita questions and remarks

The Filipino tita is infamous for her no holds barred comments and questions that could very easily catch you off guard. So it would be best to have default answers prepared for things like: “Uy, tumaba ka!” (Hey, you’ve gained weight!) or “May boy/girlfriend ka na ba?” (So do you have a boy/girlfriend already?). But even those already with significant others are not spared. They can still expect a “So when’s the wedding?” or an “Aren’t you having a baby yet?”. Oh tita’s — they can be a handful, but you can’t not love ’em.

Filipina women at a wedding © daily matador / Flickr

Stay energized

Filipinos are a loud and happy bunch — make sure you have the energy to ride along. They appreciate people who are just as joyous and fun-loving as them, so don’t stay seated for too long. Get up, enjoy the dance floor, socialize, and relish the spirit of the vibrant Filipino company you’re in.