Catholics in the Philippines on December 16 flocked to churches to commence the nine-day series of daily Masses leading up to Christmas.
Simbang Gabi, also known as Misa de Gallo or Aguinaldo Mass, is a Filipino Christmas tradition that honors the Blessed Virgin Mary, culminating in the midnight Mass on December 24.
The term “Simbang Gabi” translates to “Night Mass” in English, although the Masses are usually held in the early morning.
Simbang Gabi is a novena tradition that originated in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period and was introduced by Spanish friars to allow farmers to attend Mass before heading to the fields.
The Masses are seen as a way for the faithful to spiritually prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Filipinos believe that attending all nine Masses, especially at dawn, will grant their wishes or petitions. It is a time for prayer, reflection, and spiritual renewal.
Simbang Gabi creates a festive atmosphere in Filipino communities, with churches adorned with Christmas decorations and lights. After the Mass, traditional Filipino delicacies such as bibingka (rice cake) and puto bumbong (sticky rice) are often enjoyed by the churchgoers.
The novena culminates on Christmas Eve with the midnight Mass, known as the “Misa de Gallo” or “Rooster’s Mass.” This midnight Mass marks the beginning of the official Christmas celebrations in the Philippines.
Simbang Gabi is not only a religious tradition but also a cultural and social one. It brings communities and families together as people gather to attend Mass and share meals afterward. It is a time of joy, camaraderie, and strengthening community ties.
The tradition is symbolic of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in search of a place to stay, leading to the birth of Jesus. The early morning schedule of the Masses is meant to evoke a sense of anticipation and preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child.
Simbang Gabi is deeply ingrained in Filipino Christmas customs and is celebrated with enthusiasm across the country. It reflects the unique blend of religious devotion and cultural traditions that characterize Christmas in the Philippines.
All photos by Angie de Silva