May 28, 2016

Birthday culture in the Philippines

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  • Filipinos love to celebrate birthdays. Apart from Christmas, New Year, and Chinese New Year, it’s the most celebrated occasion for any Filipino family. There’s a celebration every time a birthday comes, though there are four that stand out from the rest: the 1st, 7th, 18th (for girls), and 21st (for boys).

    Here’s what you need to know about each of these significant birthdays:


    abbey 1st

    (Photo courtesy of Abbey Jearel Cordero)

    1st birthday

    One of the most significant birthdays for any Filipino family is the first birthday of their child. This one is more of a thank you to the parents rather than the child’s actual first birthday. Gifts are usually meant for both the parent and the child: baby clothes, feeding bottles, a larger crib, etc. Expect a lot of cheek pinching and catching up between the parent and the godparents, uncles, and aunts.


    pacquiao 7th

    (Photo courtesy of Nice Print Photography & Exige Weddings)

    7th birthday

    Once the parents are done with a child’s first, the next one they should prepare for is the child’s 7th. 7th birthdays in the Philippines are a big deal: it marks the year when the child can be held more accountable to his/her actions. It’s also the time when youngsters develop their sense of right and wrong, as well as when they graduate from pre-school to primary school. It’s a big leap, and most parents throw lavish children’s parties for such an occasion.


    kath bernardo 18

    (Photo via

    18th and 21st birthday

    These are your standard “coming of age” birthdays: 18th for girls and 21st for boys. A girl’s 18th birthday is referred to as a debut since it marks their transition from adolescent to adulthood. It’s a momentous occasion similar to how Americans celebrate a girl’s 16th birthday (or 15th if your family is part-Latino or adheres to Latino culture), but with more pizzazz.

    For a debut, it includes sets of 18 “things” which depend on the celebrant, although staples are 18 roses (a dance with select males), 18 candles (messages from the celebrant’s girlfriends), and 18 treasures (gifts from friends and family). A boy’s 21st birthday is also celebrated, albeit with a lot less flair. Some parents choose to forgo these big celebrations in lieu of a vacation or a very expensive gift: a car, a smartphone on a subscription plan, a condo (it happens, yes).

    There’s also the concept of celebrating your 50th birthday with a bang, and every decade after that. Reaching 50 is seen as a milestone for most people; the same goes for every decade after that.


    Recent Comments

    Anyone know about a Filipino tradition of celebrating a decade birthday (as for instance 50th or 60th anniversary) one year ahead, that is, the year before, when the celebrant turns for instance 49 or 59? This should be due to superstition or a desire to keep the actual big birthday a secret, to avoid the entire extended family expecting you to give a grand, and very expensive, birthday party?

    one year ago

    Can someone explain to me why they have two different dates of birth? My step-mother has 20 Feb and 13 April as her birthdays.

    2 years ago

    The stupidest thing I have ever heard and witnessed and learned about the Philippines is that… When it’s your birthday (or whoever is the birthday celebrant), you have to pay for everyone at your party or lunch/dinner. I went out with my fiancé for her birthday dinner and I was gonna pay the whole bill, and she said, she has to pay for everyone. We got into a big fight over it and still argue about other birthdays. Just like many things in the Philippines, nothing makes sense or logic. Someone try to explain this to me.

    2 years ago

    I have a Filipino friend celebrating his daughter’s Quinceanera; so, I am here looking for traditional gift ideas to highlight their shared heritage. Her mother is not Filipino. But it is on her 16th birthday, not 18th. I was told it is either depending on the family. To me, the 18th does make more sense but I am not Filipino. I gather 16 will be the theme instead of 18 but otherwise much the same.

    2 years ago

    i can not picture my self letting 18 young men dancing with my 18 yr old daughter. I’ll be a wreck !

    2 years ago

    I’ve taught first grade in a predominantly Filipino community for 15 years, and this is the first year one of my students is having a big, formal party with roses &candles.

    3 years ago

    I think it was very interesting

    3 years ago

    El artículo es muy interesante…

    4 years ago
    What do you think about this article?
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