The Filipino Debut: Another Coming of Age Party

In the United States, you have the Sweet Sixteen. In many Hispanic cultures, you have the Quinceañera. There’s another, lesser-known, coming of age party you might not be familiar with; the Filipino Debut-pronounced as “day-boo”-is celebrated when a Filipino woman turns eighteen. 

The Filipino Debut is a product of Spanish colonization. Since Quinceañeras are popular in Hispanic cultures, the Filipinos decided to create their own kind of celebration, forming the Filipino Debut. It was originally meant to highlight a girl’s transition to womanhood, and show that she was available to find a lover. Now, it is simply a celebration of the woman’s life. 

In a Filipino Debut, the celebrant is referred to as a debutante. I was in the debutante’s shoes when I had my Debut almost two years ago. Like many celebrants have in a Sweet Sixteen, debutantes often have courts. In my case, however, I decided not to have one and to just fly solo. If I were to have a court, it would have consisted of nine girls (including myself) and nine boys. 

At the start of the Debut, the emcee introduces the immediate family members of the debutante. Once they are introduced, they make their grand entrance into the ceremony’s vicinity. After all of the family members have entered, the court is introduced and follows suit, with the debutante coming in last. If there is no court, then the debutante is introduced and makes her grand entrance after her immediate family arrives. When a debutante that doesn’t have a court enters, she can choose whether or not she wants to perform something. In my debut, I sang “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. I chose to sing this song because I like how it signifies reaching for your goals no matter what comes your way. This message resonated with me growing up, and even more now that I’m in college and am close to entering the adult world. 

After the grand entrances, there is a prayer. Then, everyone is seated to eat, and as dinnertime nears its end, the debutante goes to change into her second gown. Once she is ready, one Debut tradition starts: the Eighteen Roses. In the Eighteen Roses, each of the eighteen men in the debutante’s life would receive a rose to give to the debutante. Once the debutante receives those roses, she slow dances with the men. Some debutantes do a slow dance first, then have a fun dance break with at least one of the men. 

After the Eighteen Roses comes the Eighteen Candles. In the Eighteen Candles, each of the eighteen women gives a speech to the debutante. The speech usually consists of reflecting on the time spent with the debutante and well wishes. After her speech, each woman then lights a candle. All of the candles lit during this ceremony are blown out by the debutante after the birthday song is sung to her. It is important to note that, sometimes, it is not literally eighteen women participating in the Eighteen Candles. Sometimes, two women can take up each slot, this typically occurs with female relatives. 

Recently, there have been several additions made to the Debut, one of which is the Eighteen Treasures. During this process, eighteen people are chosen to give a life-lasting gift to the debutante. The gift giver would then explain to the debutante why they chose to give her this gift. Another addition is the Eighteen Shots, where eighteen people are chosen to propose a toast to the debutante. This can go two ways. In one, the wishes are given before the toast. In another, the person would give a toast and speech, and then imbibe the drink. For obvious reasons, this can only occur in places where the drinking age is eighteen and above. 

After the Eighteen Roses and Eighteen Candles are finished, attendees sing the birthday song to the debutante, and then she blows out her candles. Many debutantes choose to have a slideshow of their life played-it can last for the duration of the party, or not be played at all. Once the slideshow is done, the debutante changes into another dress (one that’s easier to party in) and would then perform a dance routine with her court. Once the court’s performance is done, the debutante would give a thank you speech. If the debutante does not have a court, the thank you speech would occur after the candles are blown out. After that, the dancing begins! However, in my Debut, there was dancing in between the different events. 

The Filipino Debut is such a grand and beautiful ceremony and celebration. If you are of Filipino descent, I highly encourage you to have Debut. You only turn eighteen once, so you don’t want to miss out on a big celebration of your life. I don’t think the Filipino Debut is as well-known as other birthday celebrations, so I’m glad that I was able to share this experience with you!