The Filipino Debut

Article By: Mae Kirkpatrick

To the newcomers in the Philippines, talk of “debuts” and photos of elaborate parties strewn around social media may seem to be a bit of a mystery. The seemingly lavish birthday party is a key element in Philippine tradition, and has evolved over many years, though still staying a strong aspect of Philippine culture. The tradition of the debut was derived from the Spanish celebration of the Quinceañera, a coming-of-age party girls in Spain hold when they turn fifteen. After the Spanish colonized the Philippines, the Filipinos took on this tradition and adapted it to follow Philippine culture and tradition. Previously, debuts were held for parents to reveal their newly matured daughter to eligible bachelors.  Now, the modern debut is more of a gathering wherein the debutante can celebrate her crossover into adulthood.

Debuts are elaborate events that need much organization and planning. In fact, senior Reine Mendoza, who recently held her own debut, said it took her mom about a year to plan every aspect of the debut, since the debut consists of a lengthy and complex program. First, the debut begins with an opening prayer. It is followed by a Grand Cotillion Waltz dance, which must be practiced non-stop beforehand by selected peers and the debutante herself. After a dress change, the debutante makes her grand entrance into the room, following a rose covered carpet with torchbearers at her side, symbolic of her blossoming into adulthood. Additionally, integral aspects of the debut include the 18 Roses, 18 Candles, and 18 Treasures. The 18 Roses are the debutante’s closest male friends who she feels have been a significant part of her life, and they are responsible for giving her a rose then dancing the waltz with her. Traditionally, it is the father who gives the first rose and has the first dance, while a significant other gives the last rose and has the last dance. The 18 Candles, are the debutante’s closest female friends, who each light a candle for the debutante and present a short speech for the debutante, reminiscing about the times they had together and celebrating her transition into adulthood. Finally, the 18 Treasures are tasked with bestowing the debutante with gifts.

Overall, Mendoza quoted that although “debuts are traditional events for Filipino girls to celebrate their transformation from being kids to adults,” she felt “it was [also] just a fun night to spend with family and friends to celebrate my birthday.” Mendoza adds, “The most special part [of my debut] was when my friends and family presented their “treasures” and made speeches because it’s the time when they actually explicitly tell you how much you mean to them.”

Although the debut has slightly diverged from its original purpose, debuts stay a much-anticipated event in the Filipino culture—one full of festiveness, joy, and overall appreciation towards the important event in which a girl truly becomes a woman.