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Simbang Gabi: A Brief Explanation of the Filipino Christmas Tradition

I love Christmas and I enjoy sharing facts about the holidays.

What Is Simbang Gabi?

What Is Simbang Gabi?

How Did Simbang Gabi Begin?

Simbang Gabi is a Filipino Christmas tradition. It is a series of nine dawn masses on the days leading up to Christmas. It begins on December 16 and ends at midnight on the 24th of December, when a midnight mass is held.

This tradition was introduced by the Spanish friars to allow the farmers to hear mass before going to the fields early in the morning. The masses can start as early as 4 in the morning. Simbang Gabi is also known by its popular Spanish name, Misa de Gallo, or "Mass of the Rooster.''

In the olden days, the church bells started ringing as early as three o' clock, waking people up so they could get ready for the four o'clock dawn mass. The Roman Catholic churches across the nation start to open their doors shortly before the break of dawn to welcome the faithful to the Simbang Gabi mass.

Simbang Gabi masses can start as early as 4 a.m.

Simbang Gabi masses can start as early as 4 a.m.

How Is It Practiced Today?

Today, the tradition of Simbang Gabi continues whether you live in the city or the province, although it is celebrated in new ways. Most churches are decorated with colorful lights and beautiful parol lanterns to welcome the churchgoers.

The nativity scene, or Belen, is displayed in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It shows baby Jesus in a manger with Mother Mary and Saint Joseph. There are shepherds and farm animals. A complete scenario of the Belen includes the three wise men carrying their gifts to the infant Jesus and the star of Bethlehem that guided them in their journey.

Over the years, Filipino communities have made some changes in the way that this event is celebrated. Some urban parishes now celebrate Misa de Gallo around 8 or 9 in the evening in order to accommodate the needs of the members of the community who have different work schedules.

The nine masses begin on December 16 and end on the night of December 24th.

The nine masses begin on December 16 and end on the night of December 24th.

Foods for Simbang Gabi

Shortly after the mass, traditional delicacies await the churchgoers. There are food stalls right outside the church with many popular food items. These are usually served with tea or coffee as well.

Favourite treats for after mass include:

  • Bibingka
  • Puto (rice cakes)
  • Puto bungbong
  • Suman sa pasko
  • Suman sa ibos
  • Hot pandesal (breakfast rolls)
Simbang Gabi is recognized by Catholic Filipino communities across the world.

Simbang Gabi is recognized by Catholic Filipino communities across the world.

Why Do We Celebrate?

Simbang Gabi is not just a tradition that is celebrated because we need to do so; it is also the spiritual preparation for Christmas and commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. The celebration is also seen as a way of requesting blessings from the Lord, as most people believe that if one completes the whole series of nine dawn masses, their wishes will be granted.

Simbang Gabi is also recognized by Catholic Filipino communities who are living elsewhere in the world. No matter how or when this celebration takes place, Simbang Gabi provides a strong indication of the depth of Catholicism among the Filipino people.


Crystal on November 08, 2019:

Now I fully understand why Simbang Gabi is celebrated. This is wonderful information to learn about my home country.

Mamamo on November 18, 2018:


Trixie Vencis Escoto on December 30, 2016:

It's very nice...

now I know why we celebrate christmas and how Misa de Gallo is important to us...

Venice Tabas on December 15, 2015:

nice thanks

jianclyde on December 16, 2013:

aside from simbang gabi, filipinos are also known spent Christmas the longest starting Sept. until the end of three kings sometime in January.

as soon as the ber months start Filipinos will immediately put up decorations unlike in western customs they put up there Christmas tree days before christmas.

Justin Beiber on December 06, 2012:

So cool. I want to go to the Philippines

jariz on November 04, 2011:

thanks!!! its really's a big help in me. now i know why we always do that.

may on October 17, 2011:


Roman Numeral Conversion Worksheets on September 01, 2011:

thanx.. sa gumwa nto...:)

princess on December 15, 2010:

why is it called "simbang gabi" e madaling araw naman talaga siya ginaganap dati? thank you! =)

slp on December 06, 2010:

In the Phils. the novena of masses in preparation for Chhristmas is called "Misa de Gallo" because the masses are at 4:00 o'clock in the early dawn at the crowing of the cock (gallo). In the States it has come to be known as Simbang Gabi and they have it at 7:00 PM. Hope you see the distinction!

andre on November 19, 2010:

haha rooster :) can't wait to get back to the Philippines :) i like to recommend using when you want to send something to the Philippines

jenny arancon on January 07, 2010:

correction lang misa de gallo means dawn mass not mass

of the rooster

sillywalk on July 24, 2009:

Great hub. Nobody does Christmas like the Filipinos.

may on December 18, 2008:

hello miss mm, i wanna know how come they called it simbang gabi if they are doing it early in the morning?

cj on December 14, 2008:

ei.. tnx.. laking help nito s paper work q..

ck_torqx01 on July 24, 2008:

.,..mga guyzzz,thankz sa info dito!!!!sana marami pa kayong matulungang mga mag-aaral na tulad ko!!!!!

chuch_lord on December 30, 2007:

sAlAmAt Po Sa PaNiNiWaLa Sa SiMbAnG gAbI:3

MM Del Rosario (author) from NSW, Australia on November 20, 2007:

Hi Rowena,

glad to be of help. thanks for dropping by.


Rowena on November 19, 2007:

Thanks for the info. i've found it very useful wd my presentation.

MM Del Rosario (author) from NSW, Australia on October 03, 2007:

Hi Rmnathan,

thanks for dropping by and do come back.

Rmnathan from Sharjah on September 25, 2007:

Good information. Thanks.