Simbang Gabi


Christmas is the longest and most celebrated holiday in the Philippines.  On December 16, the festivities start with a daily pre-dawn Mass, called Simbang Gabi or Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses), and culminate in the Misa de Gallo on Christmas eve.   The Misas de Aguinaldo originated in Mexico and were held at four in the morning to accommodate the farmers who had to be in the fields by dawn during harvest season. 

This tradition continues to the present day.  At 3 o' clock in the morning, the church bells ring to summon the people to the service.  In some rural areas a band might play a medley of Christmas tunes to awaken the town.  After the lively service, churchgoers will filter out into the churchyard.  In the early morning light they will stop by food stalls made of nipa that line the perimeter of the church.

Like homes all over the Philippines at Christmastime, these tiny huts are decorated with some parol fashioned from bamboo sticks and cellophane.  These lanterns represent the star of Bethlehem, the guiding light that led the three wise men to the infant Child.  This emblem of Philippine Christmas embodies the spirit of hospitality that prevails during the season.

The early risers will have warm bibingka (rice cakes made from rice flour topped with carabao cheese and grated coconut) for breakfast.  Puto bumbong (purple glutinous rice cakes steamed in bamboo cylinders and sprinkled with grated coconut and brown sugar) will be offered along with invigorating cups of salabat (ginger tea).  The festive air will continue until Christmas eve.