Simbang gabi or dawn mass is a nine-day devotional prayer prior to Christmas day starting from December 16 to December 24.
It is also called novena mass, from Latin novem, or nine. Also referred to as Misa de Gallo or rooster’s mass, its reference comes from the ritual being celebrated at dawn with the crowing of roosters at around four in the morning.
In some places, Misa de Gallo specifically refers to the culminating night mass on December 24th or Christmas Eve. It is also known as Misa de Aguinaldo or “gift mass,” emphasizing the faithful’s sacrifice of waking up early morning to attend the mass as an expression of gratitude for the birth of the Savior—Jesus Christ.
Brought by the Spanish religious missionaries to the Philippines during the colonial period, simbang gabi was traditionally observed in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
According to Pope Sixtus V, it is also for the glorification of the Roman Catholic Church, spreading of the Catholic faith, and preservation of newly baptized locals.
Today, it is celebrated for the perseverance of the Filipino faithful and the preservation of religious practice in the country.
Simbang gabi in the Philippines was customarily conducted at night instead of dawn. However, the clergymen noticed the struggle of locals attending the mass, having toiled during the day, particularly the farmers and fishers. Shifting to daybreak, priests directed church bells to ring at dawn in time for masses to be held, consequently bestowing blessings for the day’s good harvest or productive catch.
At present, some churches also offer anticipated mass instead of the dawn mass.
Most Catholics believe that their fervent wishes would be granted upon completion of the novena mass. In some parishes, select families sponsor the simbang gabi as a form of their devotion or panata. This usually involves the donation of funds to support a particular project or program of the parish. Before the start of the mass, members of the sponsoring family are asked to read a short prayer and light a lantern or sometimes place one figure or character in the nativity scene until completed on Christmas Eve.
During simbang gabi, it is common to see the area surrounding the church lined with food stalls of local delicacies. Topping the season’s menu are different types of kakanin (rice cakes) such as puto bumbong, bibingka, puto, and suman served with hot salabat (ginger tea) and hot tsokolate (cocoa). There’s also an option of having steaming hot porridge (lugaw and goto) and soup (sopas) instead of kakanin.
As we anticipate the celebration of Christmas, attend simbang gabi. and experience the significance of this season, please be reminded that as the pandemic continues to put at risk our health. Remember to continue to wash your hands thoroughly, wear face masks and face shields, and observe physical distancing.
Source: National Museum of the Philippines | Text and poster by Ethnology Division