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Lady at Eighteen: Debut a la Filipina

Updated on May 2, 2011


In the olden days, a young woman belonging to an aristocratic or upper class family, upon reaching the age of maturity, was introduced to society through a formal banquet . The occasion was known as her "debut". The purpose of the celebration was to expose the young lady to eligible bachelors and their families, with the hope of future marriage with one of these bachelors in the upper class circle.

The tradition continued and was adopted by various regions and later by other countries. Then, generation after generation, the celebration evolved and was tailored according to the norms, customs and traditions of the society that adopted it.

Debut, the Filipino Way

The Dreaming Stage

Filipina women regard their debut as one of the most important milestones of their lives. Not throwing a lavish party upon reaching the age of eighteen creates a vacuum in a lady's life cycle. Planning (or at least daydreaming) starts once the young lady witnesses the event even at a very young age. My youngest daughter, Venus, started dreaming of her debut at 13 after witnessing the excitement during her elder sister Evangeline's 18th birthday. Although it seemed too early to plan, I enjoyed doing so, because it served as our bonding moment every time we talk about it. For four years, she settled for very simple birthday celebrations; sometimes even without a birthday cake, implying that the budget be saved for her eighteenth birthday. The excitement became more intense as she started to receive invitations to attend several debuts.

After her 17th birthday, the big preparation started. On my part, I had to attend to the ocular inspection, selection, reservation of the venue, and of course paying for the required downpayment. Also, I started calling catering services to take care of the food and physical arrangement. I also reserved for a mobile sound system, because young visitors usually expect deafening music as an integral part of any party. Add-ons were bubble machine, smoke (fog) machine, and follow-spotlight to add dramatic effects to the ceremonies.

Planning ... and more planning

For months, I made follow-up calls for the services we needed, reviewed my checklist to make sure that all details of the tasks assigned to me were implemented as per timetable. I found it silly, time-consuming, impractical and expensive. But since this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for my daughter, and everyone in the family was enjoying doing the tasks assigned to each of them, all I could say was AMEN ... so be it ... the show must go on.

Finally, after months of meticulous preparation, everything was almost ready for my daughter's big day. Here are some of our accomplishments:

- venue - (paid)

- lights & sounds and other add-on machines for special effects - (reserved and paid)

- food (menu has been selected, downpayment paid)

- photo-video coverage - (ready, deposit given to operator)

- debut gown - (final fitting and final touches done and awaiting delivery)

- matching pieces of jewelry, shoes and other accessories (ready)

- makeup artists (ready)

- cotillion rehearsals - (ongoing under the supervision of a choreographer)

- invitations - (75% distributed)

- souvenir giveaways - (90% complete)

- debut cake - (ordered from a famous bakeshop, paid, for just-in-time delivery)

- coordination meeting with emcees, event director, usherettes, and other concerned -


- storyboard (edited)

- special guests (invited)

- transportation for the debutante and her cotillion court (arranged)

- and other minor details ...

The Big Day - The Lady Turns Eighteen

Ceremonies and more . . .

Finally, the big night came. An opening prayer led by an elder in the community marked the start of the celebration. It was then followed with a Grand Cotillion Waltz Dance by selected peers of the debutante who painstakingly practiced for months. The debutante also took part in the cotillion occupying a conspicuous place in the group.

Debutante's Grand Entrance

The Presentation of the Debutante and Her Escorts

After the cotillion, the debutante needed to rush to the dressing room discretely to change outfit. Her cotillion gown was replaced with her debut gown. Assisted by her couturiere, dressing up had to be in a hurry while the emcees were resorting to delaying tactics by introducing each of the members of the cotillion court and adding necessary ad libs.

Thanks to the skills of the event director; the emcees, lights and sounds technicians, smoke and bubble machine operators, and those in charge of video and photography, were well-coordinated.

The dimming of lights with the spotlight focused at the far-end of the hall, the playing of soft background music, fogging the area, soap bubbles fying all over the hall, and the appearance of a dancing nymph showering the red-carpeted aisle with rose petals signaled the debutante's entry.

During the Grand Entrance, a recorded speech of the debutante was played as a "voice-over" while she was being ushered to her gazebo by her two escorts and the torch bearers. The entrance signifies her entry to adulthood and into the society.

Ceremonies and Symbolisms . . . Everything must be in 18s

The 18 Roses

In this ceremony, a budding rose is popularly used to symbolize the blooming debutante; thus this portion is dubbed 18 Roses. Red is the common favorite because of its availability and lower price compared to other varieties. In my daughter's debut, she preferred the yellow roses to match with the motif. Thanks to the caterer; the flowers turned out to be part of their freebies. Aside from being a symbol of love, the thorns of the roses also remind the debutante of life's ups and downs. She may be in a bed of roses, but the thorns (problems, trials, all the negatives you can think of) are there to give her discomfort.

The offering of the roses likewise symbolizes society's acceptance (particularly of men's world) of the celebrant. The debutante's father offers the first rose. The waltz is usually danced for few minutes. The eldest son in the family follows, and so on. Close male friends are usually chosen by the debutante. The escort offers the last rose who then guides the debutane to her gazebo.

More Ceremonies and Symbolisms

Other ceremonies are listed below. Please CLICK HERE to read more.

18 Toasts

18 Candles

18 Song Lines

18 Nuggets of Wisdom

18 Symbolic Gifts

As mentioned earlier, the debut had evolved to various variations according to creativity of the organizer. No matter what pattern it may follow, the tradition will live on as long as there are people who will cherish the said tradition.

For entrepreneurs, a debut is not merely an occasion for families and friends. It is a big business opportunity! If you enjoy attending or organizing parties and at the same time make money, big money, out of it, CLICK HERE.

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      Bartukas 4 years ago

      well made lens thanks