Simbáng Gabi (Filipino for “Night Mass”) is a devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced by Roman Catholics and Aglipayans in the Philippines in anticipation of Christmas and to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The masses are held daily from December 16–24, and occur at different times ranging from as early as 03:00 to 05:00 PST. On the last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the service is instead called Misa de Gallo (Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass”).
During this Christmas season, Filipinos continue to celebrate this annual Novena Mass. This event dates back to the time when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi celebrated the first feast of the Nativity in the year 1565 in the archipelago.
In traditional Filipino belief, however, completing the novena is also supposed to mean that God would grant the devotee’s special wish or favor.
After hearing Mass, Filipino families partake of traditional Philippine Christmas delicacies, either during breakfast at home or immediately outside the church, where they are sold. Vendors offer a wealth of native delicacies, including bibingka (rice flour and egg based cake, cooked using coals on top and under), puto bumbong (a purple sticky rice delicacy which is steamed in bamboo tubes, with brown sugar and coconut shavings as condiments), salabat (hot ginger tea) and tsokolate (thick Spanish cocoa).
Simbang Gabi not only strengthens relationships among family members but also it is the time where our faith is intensified. This is the time where we mostly feel the presence of the Lord because it is the spiritual preparation for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. It does not matter if one has the stamina to complete the novena or not, what really matters is what is inside the heart. The blessing does not depend on the number of mass attended, but what is important is the disposition of the person who receives the Lord’s blessing.