Wedding and Beyond

Pamamanhikan 101: All About This Filipino Tradition

After the eventful engagement day, Remmiel and I sat down side by side, both lost on our thoughts. That moment of inexplicable joy drained us physically and mentally. And perhaps subconsciously, our minds were already processing how the events of the morning would change the course of the coming months in a big way.

Not a few hours later that day, my mom asked “O, kelan sila mamamanhikan?” And so, it began.

What is Pamamanhikan?

Pamamanhikan is a Filipino custom where a man, together with his family, pays a visit to the home of his intended bride. In this occasion, his family will ask the formal blessing of the woman’s family for the wedding.

Why is it Called Pamamanhikan?

In high school, our history teacher taught us that most of the houses before were built with a flight of stairs before you can reach the door. According to her, the reasons for this are (1) as the home’s defense in lieu of gate and (2) the lower part of the house is used for storage or where animals are kept.

Now the root word of Pamamanhikan is “panhik” which in English means to climb. Since houses before are built with stairs, anyone who wanted to visit a house needs to climb these stairs. As you may have read in the definition, Pamamanhikan is a visit where marriage talks will be discussed.

If you Google the exact English translation of Pamamanhikan, you would see “climbing in love” as an answer. This sounds silly today but after reading those history and Filipino language lesson above, you may start to see its sense especially during the past.

Do We Still Need to Do it Today?

The short answer is yes. The long one is, it’s up to you.

Pamamanhikan is not a requirement to get married. Not by any church country that I knew of. But it is like an unwritten tradition for Filipino households.

My friend’s sister jumped right into their wedding preparations right after her boyfriend proposed. They were both raised in a very open minded family, so you would think that it’s not an issue to their parents especially since they are present when the guy proposed.

But one day, their dad whispered to my friend, “Kelan balak mamanhikan nung boyfriend ng kapatid mo? Malapit na ang kasal. Parang may nakakalimutan silang gawin.” Translation: When will your sister’s boyfriend go here with his family? It’s almost time for their wedding. Are they forgetting something?

Pamamanhikan shows respect of the couple to their parents and the rest of their family. I remember my brother carelessly blurting that he will not be upholding this tradition when it’s time for him to get married. You should see the eye roll of my parents at him.

But as with any tradition, we always have a choice if we will do it or not. There are always exceptions that will let us veer away from doing what is expected. For instance, if having the families from both sides meet would accomplish nothing, would add no value or would cause further trouble, then maybe not doing it is the best decision.

If you both decide to stick with tradition, here are some tips for preparing for the Pamamanhikan.

When Should We Do It?

Generally, Pamamanhikan is done a few weeks after the guy proposes to his girlfriend. Ours took place two weeks after we got engaged. Since it’s sort of a kick-off meeting for the wedding, the ideal time to do this is as close to the proposal as possible. By doing so, you can then proceed to really start the wedding preparations.

Nowadays, especially with members of the family working abroad, Pamamanhikan takes place once both families are complete. My personal take, communicate clearly to the families if wedding preparations would precede the Pamamanhikan. Avoid keeping secrets especially from your family.

This is to prevent any unnecessary drama on either of the couple’s side. You wouldn’t want to start your wedding journey let alone your marriage with drama.

Who Should We Bring with Us?

There’s no rule who should be present during the Pamamanhikan. Generally, at least one or both parents of each side should be there. In the absence of parents, the legal guardian, siblings, aunts and uncles or the grandparents can also come. In other parts of the Philippines, religious leaders or barangay officials are also invited during the Pamamanhikan.

Anyone that can represent the family of each side can come to the Pamamanhikan. Make sure that each of you knows who will come, so you are prepared on how to address them especially if it’s your first time to meet them.

It is also best to know how many will be present from each side. One is to make sure enough food, utensils and chairs are prepared to accommodate everyone and two, is to avoid any side of the family to feel intimidated because of the number of the other party. Don’t let either side feel as if one is going to dominate the other one.

During our Pamamanhikan, Remmiel brought his parents, brother, his father’s eldest brother and his wife and his mother’s sibling. For my side, I just have my parents and my two brothers. Overall, there are about 12 people present at that time.

Where Should We Do It?

You have seen the historical background of Pamamanhikan so traditionally, it is hosted at the bride’s house. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to do it in a restaurant. This is practical especially with those who have small spaces or those that have no time to prepare the food themselves and would just like to order food there.

Make sure that the place can accommodate your number and offers privacy. Avoid locations where you need to raise voices just to be heard. If you’re choosing a restaurant, inquire for their private rooms and check if there’s a separate fee for renting the room or you just need to buy their food at a certain amount. Some restaurants allow their guests to bring outside food but with a corkage fee. Well-lit and well-ventilated room is also a must.

Who Takes Care of The Food?

Some say the guy’s family should take care of it since it’s polite to bring something when visiting a home. For some, it should be the girl’s family since they are already at the comfort of their house. How about we just decide that both sides should bring something?

I cannot recall what we feasted on that day, but I remember Remmiel and I agreed which side will prepare what. His family brought the viand, rice cake, soft drinks and dessert. My mother cooked the rice and I think we bought either ice cream or cake and some fruits. We also prepared the eating utensils and you cannot not have coffee when elders are talking.

Now that you have set the date, time and place of the Pamamanhikan as well as who will come with you and what food you will prepare, let’s get to the next part – the actual Pamamanhikan.

Is There A Program?

There is no specific timeline or set of activities that should be done unless required by your race or religion.

Who Presides Over the Pamamanhikan?

I know I mentioned that Pamamanhikan is like a kick-off meeting for the wedding, but this is not like a regular meeting where there is a designated facilitator. The answer then is, it depends.

During our Pamamahikan, my father-in-law started by praying and introducing the members of their family that we were meeting for the first time that day. He ended by saying that they wanted to hear if Remmiel and I already have plans. My parents welcomed them to our house, introduced themselves and then passed the ball to Remmiel and I to handle the discussion from there.

This will depend on the personality of your parents or elders that are present. Some can confidently handle discussions while others may choose to remain quiet. Both sides of our family can handle discussions well, but according to them, since we already know each other (both of our families go to the same church for more than 15 years) and we are already both adults, they let us handle the discussion.

What Do We Talk About?

I feel like majority of the questions are all answerable by it depends. But if I simply answer that, this post would be not have added value to you, right? So, here are some things you can talk about depending on which scenario applies to you.

Family is meeting for the first time

It is important that everybody can get to know each other and be comfortable with each other. Marriage is between the two of you but for us Filipinos, marriage is also a fusion of families. I’m not suggesting you do an acquaintance game, unless your families are game.

Name introductions, where they came from, what do they do, history of their family are safe topics to begin with. Be prepared to hear your parents’ proud or embarrassing stories about you.

Don’t force the interactions, let it flow naturally. Don’t get anxious of dead airs but try to encourage talking by engaging everyone. Maybe serve wine to loosen the tongue a bit?

Family already knows and is friendly towards each other

We fall in this category and as soon as their family enters the house, chitchat already started. Formalities were exchanged since we are transitioning from being church mates to being family,

Because we can drop the getting-to-know part, we are able to talk more about our wedding plans in depth. I’m not saying that if your families are meeting for the first time, you cannot share your wedding plans, if any, but it should be secondary only to the family getting to know each other.

Family already knows but has issues with one another

Assess if it’s even healthy to do the Pamamanhikan if this is your case. If your parents can be adult and set aside their differences, then proceed. Otherwise, let your parents send people on their behalf or just don’t do it all.

If you intend to proceed, keep the conversation light. Steer away from topics that will put them on opposite sides and discussing wedding can be a source of unnecessary conflicts so identify which can be safe to share.

It is important that you and your partner convey that you are a team separate from each of your family. And while you will work hard to accommodate their suggestions, you will still prioritize what you want as a couple. This was a hard topic to cover!

Wedding Plans Presentation

This is based on our personal experience considering what we already have and what our families wanted from us. Since our families wanted us to present our plans to them, if any, we decided to have a PowerPoint presentation which shows the following details.

a. Wedding Date

b. Ceremony Venue

c. Reception Venue – we did an ocular for the event places near us and we included pictures

d. Our Officiant

e. The Entourage – our parents gave us names that they want us to consider, mostly on the principal sponsors.

f. Initial Guest List – so that they know who our priorities are, the number of slots we’re giving them to invite anyone of their choosing and total number of guests we are targeting.

g. Budget – we list down all the main components of the wedding budget and the % allocated to each.

h. Timeline

i. After wedding plans

I hope we covered most of your concerns and this made you more confident as you prepare for your Pamamanhikan. As I’ve mentioned, a lot of things will depend on your preferences as a couple and the factors around you.

But no matter how our world has changed, there is still beauty in paying respects to our elders. Nothing beats the assurance that you got your family’s love and support as you enter one of the biggest milestones in this life.

Best of luck and happy wedding preps!