Filipino Traditions 101: What Makes a Filipino Debut?


“I cried on my 18th birthday. I thought seventeen was such a nice age. You are young enough to get away with things, but you are old enough, too.” – Liv Tyler


It has been said that in the Philippines, every girl dreams about what her wedding would look like.

Although this may be true, most girls envision a very different occasion prior to that—an event more popularly known to them as their debut. This event marks their rite of passage from being a girl to a woman—a transition from adolescence to full-blown adulthood. This traditional eighteenth party is derived and heavily influenced by archaic foreign customs, and although this has been long abandoned and considered obsolete by other countries, it is still practiced today in the Philippines. A debutante ball was a traditional banquet held by end exclusive to the esteemed, affluent and upper-class families to formally introduce their young women to polite society. The soiree involves an event wherein the debutante is introduced to eligible bachelors and their families, in the hopes that one day, it would result in marriage with the most eligible man.

Today, this sort of event has been largely watered down and has a lot of Filipino aspects incorporated to them that would make it significantly more different and culturally influenced than its foreign counterpart. Apart from the dishes served by a Filipino catering service that provides debut packages, there are a lot of aspects that make a debut truly and traditionally Filipino and here are some of those characteristics.



This waltz dance is usually composed of an entourage consisting nine pairs which include the debutante and her escort. For many, this is considered to be the highlight of a woman’s formal debut. The cotillion performs an elaborate waltz dance that would last between five to twelve minutes. Depending on the debutante, the dance can either be a formal waltz dance or she can choose to incorporate a modern twist to it.



As tradition would have it, this segment of the soiree would require eighteen boys to dance with the debutante after presenting her with a rose. Customarily, the dance is opened by the debutante and her father and is ended by the debutante and a very special male in her life (a suitor or a boyfriend) but she can choose to have it in any order. A host would usually introduce each “rose” with an introductory spiel as to what sort of role the particular man has in the debutante’s life. A modern twist to this traditional dance is to utilize lively modern pop music instead of the traditional waltz.



Ladies would also get their turn after the men have done their part. The eighteen candles presentation is that part of the celebration wherein eighteen ladies consisting of the debutante’s closest family members and friends would give her well wishes and speeches while holding a candle. Their different spiels would, later on, guide her in life. It can be a toast/roast hybrid which would essentially reveal some of the debutante’s real personality through anecdotes shared by her family members and friends.



This is a modern addition to what would have been a three segment event that is slowly gaining traction throughout the years. The eighteen treasures segment of a debut celebration consists of eighteen of the debutante’s closest friends or relatives from both genders who come with gifts to bear which would play a significant role in her life as an adult, aid her in her journey as a young woman or would symbolize anything that she may encounter or experience as a grown-up. The gifts are to be presented with an accompanying spiel and would usually range from wise, creative or even humorous.



Possibly the most poignant and sentimental part of the debut, the father and daughter dance is one of the most loved traditions in a Filipino debut. This signifies the initial step the daughter takes into womanhood and the father’s acceptance of that fact. This tradition is truly heart-warming and this could even cause some of the debutantes as well as their fathers to tear up.

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