There are four that really matter, Three of these - the christening, the marriage, and the funeral - are largely defined by the requirements of Roman Catholic tradition. Birthdays are the fourth. All of these occasions are of such importance that those involved will spare no expense entertaining guests, often going deep into debt - or hocking their most prized possessions - in order to do so.


Christenings are, despite the passive nature of the participation of the subject, intensely religious affairs. The baptismal ceremony usually takes place at a church; if the church is large and popular - such as the Redemptorist, the Capitol Parish, the Guadalupe, the Mabolo, etc. - you may find the child squeezed together with a group of other infants, and the procedure may progress with factory-like rapidity, efficiency, and sterility.

Nonetheless, christenings are much-cherished affairs, and the parents spend a colossal amount of money on the occasion, with a big chunk going towards a custom-made outfit for the infant. The photographer will take another big chunk. The biggest expense by far, however, will be for the reception, often held at a function hall in a hotel near the church. There will be free food for all the guests - nothing short of a lavish banquet with the obligatory lechon will do - and dozens of cases of soft drinks and beer.

Decorations are lavish; ballons and banners will abound, and a large and garish cake will usually say: "So-and-so, Welcome to the Christian World".


The ceremony at church, followed by a rich reception: marriages are quite similar to Christenings. Though some miserable couples - the bride most often with her tummy bulging - will settle for a civil ceremony at the Palace of Justice, most marriages are extravagant affairs, no matter how impoverished or young the couple. As is the case in most other countries, at least six months of planning will have gone into a decent wedding. The wealthier members of society tend to hold their weddings not at churches, but at the Waterfront, or an equally posh beach resort.

On formal occasions such as marriages, men wear the national dress of the Philippines, the barong tagalog. This is a long-sleeved shirt made of a thin, see-through material. It is normal for the undergarment to show. The barong is worn over black slacks, and may be embroidered with gold thread and decorated with mother-of-pearl buttons.


Funerals consist of two aspects: social and spiritual. On the social side of the coin, relatives and acquaintances will gather at the funeral home and socialize with the deceased's family and with each other. This socializing may involve food, drink, cards, and considerable merriment. It is the duty of friends and relatives to show up and keep the deceased and his/her family company during the wakes. On the spiritual side of the coin, prayers - novenas - will be said as long as the body lies in the chapel of the funeral home, which can be as long as a week. When showing up at the funeral home, don't wear red - as the deceased may likely have a few Filipino-Chinese relatives who may be present. If you are certain Chinese blood is involved, wear white. Color is more important than form; even a tee-shirt and jeans will do, as long as the clothes are white, or at least non-red. After greeting the family members, be sure to view the body. This is considered important.

On the day of the actual funeral, those concerned - the English word would be mourners, but they may not look at all as if they are in mourning - will trudge behind the funeral cortege to the cemetery, often covering many miles on foot in the hot sun. The affluent classes will undertake this journey by car; usually a barangay or municipal vehicle will clear the road and the mourners' vehicles will follow in a single line, hazard lights flashing, sometimes blocking up traffic for miles.

It is customary for passersby to throw coins at the funeral procession, which family members collect.


Birthdays in Cebu are great! Unless they're yours. The celebrant is expected to shell out all the expenses for the guests, even if the celebration is held at a commercial establishment. Moreover, most guests will not bother with gifts, since birthday presents are not considered as high a priority as in the West. However, remembering someone's birthday is extremely important, and you should at the very least send a greeting via text. Forgetting someone's birthday is a capital offense.

It follows that Cebuanos will try to find out what your birthday is, either by asking you outright, or by surreptitiously peeking at your driver's license; this is to ensure that they will not commit the ultimate sin of failing to observe your birthday.

Apart from hosting a banquet for family, friends, and acquaintances, the celebrant is expected to share his or her blessings with neighbors, in the form of food. So if you celebrate a birthday, send a plate to the neighbors. Throughout your party, remember: as the birthday boy/girl, you are expected to pamper everyone else, NOT the other way around. (Which is why, since arriving in Cebu, I've been telling people my birthday is February 29.)

Again, if the celebrant is Filipino-Chinese or has Filipino-Chinese relatives, try to wear red, the auspicious color of celebration.

In all other respects - the song, the cake, the candles, the wish - birthdays are pretty much the same as in the West, probably due to five decades of American colonial rule.

Now, while no religious ceremony may take place at a birthday party, the celebrant will often go to a church to hear Mass. It is customary to allow workers to take at least a few hours off on their birthdays, in order to facilitate this custom.


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