Birthday Tradition in the Philippines: Birthday Rice Cakes

”Maligayang kaarawan sa iyo, aking kaibigan” is how Filipinos say “Happy birthday, my friend.”

Birthday tradition is important events in the Philippines and are usually celebrated by everyone in the neighborhood. In rural areas, there is a tradition that the family must provide a celebration for a birthday or the child will become ill. The celebration is truly a community affair, with everyone pitching in to prepare and then to celebrate.

The day begins with the family attending mass to thank God for the good health of the child. The home is festooned with colored lights, which really give a festive look in the early evening. If a neighbor is unable to bring a present, simply coming with good wishes is enough. The important thing is that everyone participate, young or old, rich or poor.

The party table is heaped with rice cakes cooked the day before or early on the celebration day. These are a symbol of a good life. Noodles, which symbolize long life, are usually served. It is important not to break the noodles when cooking or eating them. A cake may also be prepared, but this is not always the case.

The most important moment in the celebration is the singing of the birthday song. The guest of honor is seated in the middle and everyone joins the singing. Friends may bring flowers or even a crown made of flowers and vines. Guests all get a handful of flower petals and polished rice to throw at the guest of honor, thus wishing him a long and prosperous life.

Gifts are offered, but the importance of a gift is the thought, not the monetary value. This is followed by party games. A favorite game centers around a clay pot filled with candles. Blindfolded children take turns trying to break the pot. This game is called “Palayok.”

Another popular party game is “Trip to Bethlehem,” which is similar to the American game of “Musical Chairs.” While parties in cities are similar to those celebrated in other western countries, the rural traditions continue throughout the Philippines.

The eighteenth year marks a girl’s debut. The debutante from a middle class or affluent family throws a lavish party. The celebration begins with the father’s dance and the presentation of eighteen roses. One rose is from the girl’s father.

Eighteen candles are lit by close friends and family members, each of whom gives a speech in honor of the girl. The candles are meant to represent virtues she has attained and will carry forth into adulthood. After all of the candles are lit, the celebrant blows them out. Then the cake is cut and shared with the guests.

The party continues with a prepared and well-rehearsed waltz by the cotillion de honor. This group is made up of nine boys and nine girls, plus the guest of honor and her escort. After this elaborate dance, the girl is presented with eighteen gifts from close friends. Each explains why this particular gift is chosen. Dancing for all guests concludes the evening.

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