Simbang Gabi: A Filipino Christmas Tradition


     Simbang Gabi is a nine-day Roman Catholic ritual novena performed in the Philippines which starts from December 16 and ends on December 24. Simbang Gabi, which translates to Evening Mass is usually performed as early as 4 or 5 in the morning. The last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, is called Misa de Gallo, which literally means "Rooster's Mass"
     The Simbang Gabi originated not just out of devotion, but also due to practicality. In the early days of Spanish rule, it was the customary tradition to hold novenas in the evenings during the Christmas season. However, the friars and the priests saw that the people attending the novenas were tired from work in the fields, even though they continued to want to hear the word of the Lord. This was because in the Philippines, an agricultural country, families started their day even before the sun would rise to avoid the inhospitable temperatures in the fields. As a compromise, the clergy began to hold Mass early dawn when the land would still be dark.

    Over the years, Filipinos have made some changes in the celebration of Simbang Gabi, some parishes now celebrates Simbang Gabi around 8-9 in the evening in order to accommodate the needs of the parishioners who have different work schedules. Shortly after the mass, traditional delicacies awaits the church goers and are sold in stalls right outside the church. Favorites like bibingka, puto bungbong, suman and usually served with tea or coffee. Simbang Gabi 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, wishes will be granted.

     Simbang Gabi has become one of the most popular Christmas traditions in the country. It is a significant event because it serves as a spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ and it also strengthens relationships among family members.  So no matter how or when this celebration takes places, the Simbang Gabi provides a strong indication of the depth of Catholicism among the Filipinos.


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