By Brenna Flores
When the Filipino “sakadas” (migrant workers) came to Hawaii to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations in the early 20th century, they brought their language, practices, beliefs and traditions with them.
As a descendant of the “sakadas” who was born and raised in Hawaii, I am familiar with most of these traditions. But my half-Filipino/half-Portuguese family and I have not been aware of all of them listed below. While researching our cultural customs, I was able to learn more about these Filipino traditions and gain a better understanding of my Filipino heritage.
In honor of National Filipino Values Month, I would like to share some popular Filipino traditions with other young Pinoys like myself so we can help preserve these special cultural customs for future generations.
Faith, Family, and Friends Traditions
- Faith is a very important aspect of Filipinos’ everyday life, but Sundays are especially dedicated to the Lord. Filipinos attend mass or church services where they can celebrate their faith with a community of believers.
- Elders are very respected in the Filipino family for their wisdom and life experiences. Younger Filipinos practice “mano po” to elders. “Mano po” translates to “hand” in Spanish; “po” in Filipino speech is used to express respect. When a younger person does “mano po”, he/she takes the elder’s right hand and places it on his/her forehead, followed by a slight bow.
- Titles of respect are given to elders. “Lolo” (grandfather) and “Lola” (grandmother) can sometimes be used to address other Filipino elders in general. “Manong” and “Manang” are Ilocano titles given to the first-born male and female of the family. Similarly, “Kuya” and “Ate” are used in Tagalog to address an older brother amongst siblings and can also address a stranger that is older than the speaker. “Tito” and ‘”Tita” refer to the uncle and auntie in the Filipino culture (but remember to only use it when the person is a younger brother or sister of the parents).
- Filipinos are very thoughtful. When they go on a trip, they prepare “pasalubong” for their family and friends. “Pasalubong” in Tagalog is the tradition of travelers bringing gifts, such as souvenirs and native snacks, to share with people back home.
Baptism and Birthday Traditions
- Catholic Filipinos usually baptize their baby to coincide with the 1st birthday. For the baptism ceremony, a “ninong” and “ninang” are selected as the child’s godfather and godmother, respectively. This reflects the Filipinos’ value of family, including an extended family relationship.
- On a Filipina’s 18th birthday, some of the wealthier families celebrate the young lady’s adulthood at a “debut” (cotillion), which is a grand birthday celebration similar to a quinceañera or Sweet 16. The debutante has a group of 17 friends to complete her court and they have a specially choreographed waltz, preceded by a father-daughter dance. She also has 18 candles for 18 wishes as well as 18 roses presented to her.
- At a Catholic wedding ceremony, sponsors are significant members of the bridal party. The number of sponsors varies for the Filipino couple, but there are typically four sets of secondary sponsors, including coin sponsors, veil sponsors and candle sponsors, and can be anyone from family members to friends.
- The Coin sponsors carry 13 “arras” (coins in a pouch that represent Jesus and His 12 Apostles) and bring them to the altar as a representation of the couple taking care of each other financially. The veil sponsors drape a white veil over the bride’s head and on the groom’s shoulders as a symbol of protection. Cord sponsors place the “yugal” (cord) over the veil as a representation of the couple’s bond and union. Finally, the candle sponsors present the bride and groom with these items as a symbol of unity.
- The money dance is the most famous Filipino wedding tradition in Hawaii that even non-Filipinos are adopting it. Male guests line up to pin money on the bride’s dress or veil and female guests line up to pin money on the groom’s clothing. Sometimes the guests dance with them. The money dance represents good fortune for the couple and is also a means of helping the couple financially as they begin their life together.
- Another tradition that can be heard at Filipino weddings is the toast of “Mabuhay,” which means “long life.” This enthusiastic toast is done three times (“trinity”) for the couple in hopes of granting them a long lasting and blessed marriage.
Funeral and Death Traditions
- Since Filipinos are very religious, they usually offer up the rosary or a nine-night novena after a loved one has died. They pray for the soul of the deceased to enter into heaven.
- Usually, a picture of their dearly departed is displayed and Filipino family members leave a plate of food in front of the picture as a symbol for their loved one to enjoy in the afterlife.
- Filipinos visit the graves often but most especially on All Saints Day on Nov. 1. Similar to the Mexicans’ Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), Filipinos have a feast to honor the life of their dearly departed.
- When Filipinos are mourning their loved ones, it is customary to wear black clothes to the funeral as a sign of their grief. They may also tie a black ribbon around their arm or wear a black pin until the first anniversary of the death date.
- As Filipinos are no strangers to gambling, they believe in “balato,” which is when someone wins money and shares it with those around as an act of goodwill.
- Despite it being illegal in the United States, cockfighting is a long tradition and a way of life in the Filipino community. Gamblers gather in a cockpit to watch as two chickens fight to the death with the stronger chicken emerging as the winner.
- The Philippines holds the world record for observing the longest Christian season. Filipinos begin holiday decorating and playing Christmas music as early as September.
- During Christmastime, many beautiful, colorful parols are displayed outside of houses. The star-shaped decoration represents the victory of light over darkness along with hope and goodwill.
- During the Yuletide, Filipinos celebrate Noche Buena, which is the night and the feast before Christmas Day. This tradition is held after midnight mass followed by a feast for the family. Some traditional dishes include lechon (roast pig), pancit (noodles), lumpia (egg rolls), rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), adobo, rice, pan de sal (rolls) and various sweets like ube (purple yam) and rice cakes (bibingka and puto).
- Misa de Gallo is another tradition during the Christmas season which begins on Dec. 16. Misa de Gallo is a nine-day series of masses observed by Filipino Catholics. Misa de Gallo is the final mass at midnight on Dec. 24, where the tradition is finished with another bountiful Christmas meal.
New Year Traditions
- On New Year’s Eve, Filipinos celebrate with loud noises because they believe that the sounds shield off the bad luck and bad spirits. So before the clock strikes midnight, Filipinos clang pots and pans to ring in the new year for good spirits.
- Also on New Year’s Eve, the tradition of collecting coins in one’s pocket and shaking it at midnight is believed to bring good fortune and riches to the new year. Filipinos also drop coins all around the house to symbolize always having money in the home.
- And like other Asian cultures, eating “pancit” (noodles) on New Year’s Day will bring good luck and longevity throughout the new year.
There are many, many more Filipino traditions. But the important thing is to practice and preserve them for generations to come and be proud to share them with other cultures.