The Filipino Christmas tradition known as Simbang Gabi – originally known as Misa de Aguinaldo, is a series of dawn masses that start as early as 4 AM that begins on December 16th.
This continues for nine days and ends at midnight, December 24th, at which time the Christmas Midnight Mass is performed.
In the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V ordered that the Mass be heard before sunrise since it was the harvest season and the farmers needed to be in the fields early in the morning right after the celebration. Today, the tradition continues with colorful lights and lanterns illuminating nearly every street and beautiful parols are hung in every window. Songs of the season are played everywhere to warm the hearts. Families, friends and even individuals find their way to the nearest church to attend the nine-day novena. Some young people use the opportunity to see or hold hands with the objects of their love.
After hearing Mass, Filipino families partake of traditional Filipino holiday fare sold outside the church, either within the church precincts or with breakfast at home.
By watching these series of events one can gain insight into the deeper meaning of this tradition: Simbang Gabi expresses the faith of Filipinos who hold the same faith as Christians, namely, that God is present in human history, even in the simple joys and anxieties of life’s humblest activities. Simbang Gabi for Filipino Catholics was above all an expression of their filial devotion to Mary, the Mother of God where for nine consecutive days, they join and accompany her, so to speak, as she awaits the birth of her Son.
Until next time – Simbang Gabi na naman!