Although Filipinos borrow some elements from secular America, our oldest Christmas rituals come from our Hispanic past.
The Philippines has the longest history of Christmas traditions in Asia, thanks to Spanish missionaries who came to the islands in the late sixteenth century.
Today, preparing for these traditions begin months before December comes. As soon as September hits, many homes fill Christmas trees and front gates with ribbons and lights. Throughout November, Christmas carols are heard in malls, while decorations appear along main avenues and public buildings.
Many use the manger scene as motif, a sign that faith and the rest of life are still comfortably interwoven in the Philippines.
Although Filipinos borrow some elements from secular America, such as images of snowmen and Santa Claus, our oldest Christmas rituals come from our Hispanic past.
Here are five of these traditions:
1. Night Mass (Simbang Gabi)
This is a novena of dawn masses said for nine days before Christmas. Its local name “Simbang Gabi” is Tagalog for Night Mass, since these Eucharists are celebrated before sunrise.
Introduced by friars in the 17th century, it was originally known by its Spanish name, Misa de Gallo, which means Mass of the Rooster, suggesting the rooster’s morning crow would call the faithful to come to church as the sun rose.
Many Filipinos today attend this novena to pray for a specific intention. They believe the sacrifice of waking up before sunrise adds potency to their prayers. Others use this tradition to meditate on the events leading up to Christ’s birth, as a way to spiritually prepare for the Christmas feast.
After attending these dawn Masses it is customary to buy rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong) and hot chocolate sold outside churches, and have these for breakfast.