Celebrating 18th birthday for young women in the Philippines is a very special event every family looks forward to. If a girl comes from a middle-class or affluent family, most of the time, they do a lot of preparations for this event. It is very popular in the country that even families who comes from low-class or even for those who doesn’t have enough funds, try their best to make the event happen in their own little, special way. This way, they try to make it memorable and something the debutante will treasure for the rest of her life.
The “debutante”, as she is called, is a French word meaning a “female beginner”, an adult now, who is being prepared to be introduced into society and into a world of civic responsibility and social awareness. Originally, she is being exposed due to her legal age, that she will be eligible for marriage and to be formally introduced to all eligible bachelors as well. That’s why this event is also called as the “coming out party”.
The debut tradition consists of the 18 roses presentation, in which 18 males from family members and close friends perform a short waltz dance with the debutante. One of those roses is from the father of the celebrant, usually the first one to dance with, but some do it the last dance, so they can perform the “Father and Daughter dance” portion. Next would be the presentation of the 18 candles, which has 18 females either from family members or closest to the celebrant’s heart who say their speech and wishes. They will lit each of the candle that represents all the virtues that they chose to resemble the character of being a full grown woman to guide her in her journey in life. They say each of their own piece and greetings, and after all of them are lit, the debutante will make her wish and blow all the candles and the cake is cut for the guests to enjoy. Last but not the least is the cottilon de honor, which has 9 pairs who will be presenting a waltz dance number, together with the debutante and her escort. This usually is an elaborate dance number wherein it could take from 4-10 minutes the longest which requires at least 6-8 months long rehearsal. At most times, the family of the debutante hires a choreographer so he can prepare them for the special performance and the most awaited portion of the night. The rehearsal is always at the Debutante’s home who also provides food and drinks to all the participants of the cotillon de honor.
Also, a new presentation has been added wherein they call it “The 18 Symbolic Treasures/Token”, where another 18 participants, either family friends and/or relatives offer a gift to the celebrant and explain why they chose to give it to her. The gift is something that the Debutante should treasure/cherish/use as she moves onto college and starting to live as a young woman. These days, everyone can get creative and just accomplish in whatever way they want to celebrate.
The debutante’s ball concludes with dancing by both the teenagers and the adults.