Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 24 November |
Saint of the Day: St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the Martyrs of Vietnam
home iconChurch
line break icon

How Filipinos prepare for Christmas for nine days before dawn

Jeffrey Bruno

Joanne McPortland - published on 12/15/19

The 600-year-old tradition recalls the nine months of Mary's pregnancy

Catholics in the Philippines have celebrated their own pre-Christmas novena for 600 years. Simbang Gabi (Tagalog for “Night Mass”) is a series of nine Masses traditionally celebrated in the pre-dawn hours each day from December 16 to December 24.

The custom began as a way of accompanying Mary symbolically in prayer through the 9 months of her pregnancy. The Masses were so popular that they were often celebrated outdoors, or in churches with the doors left open to accommodate the overflow crowds. At the time most of the Filipino people worked as fishers or in the rice fields, where work began at dawn. They would come to the novena Masses in the evening exhausted and hungry. So priests began celebrating the novena Masses before sunrise, followed by a communal meal of special rice dishes – because most people contributed rice, instead of money, to their parishes.

Church bells rang about 3:30 in the morning, and people would make their way to church in darkness, their way lighted only by parols, the traditional star-shaped Christmas lanterns carried or hung along the route. (Another name for Simbang Gabi is Misa de Gallo, Spanish for “Mass of the Rooster,” because the rooster would crow about the time they left home.) In the plaza of the church, bands played Christmas songs as the people gathered for Mass.




Read more:
John Paul II believed St. Lorenzo Ruiz was a model for all Filipino families

Let us sing while the world is silent

Today in the Philippines Simbang Gabi is still celebrated in the pre-dawn hours, but instead of a church-sponsored meal there are food vendors selling the rice treats. In the United States, where Filipino-American Catholics celebrate Simbang Gabi in many cities, the novena of Masses usually takes place in the evening to accommodate contemporary work schedules. Various parishes and Filipino organizations take turns hosting the nine Masses and the receptions that follow. Churches are decorated with parols, which are carried in the entrance procession.

Attend a Simbang Gabi Mass if the novena is held in your diocese. Or try getting up before dawn on one or more of the days before Christmas to pray a decade of the Rosary and accompany Mary on her journey.

Come, let us go forth singing
Beautiful hymns
For God is love.
Come, let us go forth singing,
While the world is silent . . .
(from the English lyrics for Ang Pasko ay Sumapit [Christmas Is Here], popular Tagalog carol)


DARWIN RAMOS

Read more:
Meet a 17-year-old beggar turned mystic from our own day: Filipino Servant of God Darwin Ramos

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
UPSET
Theresa Civantos Barber
5 Quotes from the saints to help you deal wit...
Giuseppe Moscati
Larry Peterson
A volcano, a plague, a war: This doctor-saint...
Luz Ivonne Ream
What’s the secret of this couple’s 64 years o...
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio's favorite prayer of petition
MONSTRANCE,GOLD,EUCHARIST
J-P Mauro
Cardinal calls Catholics to attend global Euc...
CHRIST THE KING
Edifa
Why do we say that "Christ is King"?
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.