Coming of Age: Eighteenth Birthdays

Cake for a debutante with the 18 candles
Ready to blow her cake with 18 candles to officially declare adulthood.

Transitioning into adulthood is a rite of passage that is important in many cultures and in the Philippines, major events like these always call for a big celebration. While Latin Americans have quinceñeras and Americans have sweet sixteens, Filipinos have debuts for their daughters who are turning eighteen. Eighteen is the legal age in the Philippines and is an important milestone in Filipino life. While not every girl has a lavish celebration, most parents usually come up with a celebration or gift that is grander than usual. This is how a typical debut goes in the Philippines. 

Pre-shooting for a debutante in the Philippines
Pre-shooting occurs before the party to show off photos during Debut Party.

Being the picture lovers Filipinos are, there’s always the pre-debut shoot. Depending on the motif of the celebrant, she usually poses in different outfits reflecting the theme of her debut. This is usually done by a professional photographer and videographer so the pictures look like they came straight out of a fashion editorial. The photos and videos taken are shared with the guests during the party itself. 

Another special pre-debut feature is the selection of the 18 roses, candles, treasures and so much more, depending on the debutante but the first three mentioned are the most common. The 18 roses are 18 males who will slow dance with the debutante while giving them a rose. This symbolizes her readiness for romance. They are usually her father, brothers, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, boyfriend, and friends. Usually, they are arranged in their level of closeness to the celebrant so usually, the friends are first while the boyfriend, brothers, and father are usually last. They always say to save the best for last! Others have it in reverse order, though!  

Saying the women's speech to the debutante
18 selected ladies with lit candles will share their speech. The candles symbolize the lass’ journey to a bright future.

The 18 candles are somewhat like the female version of the 18 roses, except instead of slow dancing, they give a dedication and birthday wishes to the debutante. This symbolizes her journey to a bright future as the candles light the way. Here you can expect a blend of sweet, funny, and heartwarming messages to the birthday celebrant that usually ends in a hug and occasionally, tears. The first or last person to speak is usually the mother of the debutante.

Usually, the peers of the debutante from the roses and candles are called to dance rehearsals for a dance performance that will be performed on the day itself. This is called a cotillion and the debutante usually hires a professional choreographer to teach them the steps.

The last is the 18 treasures which symbolize the things that the debutante will need in her journey to womanhood. These 18 people will give her an important gift and give a speech as to why they chose that gift. The gifts are ideally kept and treasured for the rest of the celebrant’s life

Debutante dances with escorts
Debutante dances with escorts and the father.

On the celebration day itself, the guests come in the dress code of the party depending on the theme. However, many parties have a formal or semi-formal all-white or all-black dress code so that the debutante will stand out more. A party host leads the guests through the programme and this usually involves parlor games (with nice prizes!) and going around the crowd to ask the guests for their thoughts and well-wishes for the debutante. Apart from games, there are a lot of performances prepared for the night, too. The cotillion performs their dance, the celebrant usually has a performance prepared – whether it’s singing, dancing, both or another unique talent and her family and friends have a performance prepared as well! During intermissions, the guests get to watch video presentations on the debutante, which includes the pre-debut video shot and throwback photos to display her growth from childhood to womanhood.

Debutante and family in the Philippines
Sharing the joy of adulthood with family.

It is indeed a fun and eventful night where society welcomes a young lady. After the end of the debut, it is not uncommon for an afterparty to take place. Usually, this involves a sleepover with alcohol (usually with parental supervision) and an unforgettable evening of laughter and memories.        

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