Simbang Gabi: The 9-Day Filipino Christmas Tradition

Baclaran Church during Simbang Gabi in Manila, Philippines

Baclaran Church during Simbang Gabi. © James Sarmiento on flickr

Simbang Gabi is a religious tradition brought by the Spanish to the Philippines. Nine mornings before Christmas Eve, Catholics wake up very early to go to church and attend mass. Most Filipinos believe that whoever attends all nine morning masses until Misa de Gallo will have a wish granted.

Everyone attends Simbang Gabi starting on the morning of December 16th, from bleary-eyed toddlers to stooping grandmothers. You can say that Simbang Gabi is a family affair and churches are always full during the nine mornings, prompting churchgoers to bring their own plastic chairs.

After mass, it is tradition to buy and feast on puto bumbong (sticky rice pastry), bibingka (rice cake) and salabat (ginger tea) or tsokolate (hot chocolate). These are sold outside the church and along streets leading there.

Puto Bumbong, a favorite snack after simbang gabi

Puto Bumbong © Roberto Verzo on flickr

The mass on Christmas Eve, usually held at 10PM, is called Misa de Gallo. Families attend this mass and then send the children to sleep. Just before midnight, they are stirred awake to feast on the sumptuous Noche Buena and to open their presents neatly piled under the Christmas tree. Some children will even find their stockings (or socks) filled with candies, coins and trinkets supposedly from Santa Claus.

How to last all nine mornings of Simbang Gabi

  • Get adequate sleep the night before.
  • Set your alarm for more than an hour before mass to give you ample time to arrive at the church.
  • Bring your own plastic chair if you’re not used to standing for a long time.
  • If you’re tagging children along, make sure to bring water and snacks for them.
bibingka during Simbang Gabi

Bibingka © Roberto Verzo on flickr

  • Choose a spot near the church exit if you want to buy freshly cooked puto bumbong and bibingka before everyone else. Bring some home so you don’t have to prepare breakfast.

Complete all nine mornings of Simbang Gabi this year and make a wish for the coming year!

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