Simbang Gabi: A Brief Explanation of the Filipino Christmas Tradition
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.
How Did Simbang Gabi Begin?
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 start ringing as early as three o' clock, waking people up so they can 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.
How Is It Practiced Today?
Today, the tradition of Simbang Gabi continues whether you live in the city or in 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, Filipinos 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.
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:
- Puto (rice cakes)
- Puto bungbong
- Suman sa pasko
- Suman sa ibos
- Hot pandesal (breakfast rolls)
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.