The History of Simbang Gabi

Simbang Gabi is one of the most practiced traditions in the Philippines in the buildup of Christmas, one that dates back to so many years ago. This is a 9-day mass held every day from December 16 to 24, culminating on Christmas Eve to welcome the celebration of the birth of Christ, an event widely known as Misa de Gallo.

When something is practiced so often by almost everyone, there is little room to question why we do it. So if you’re wondering what started this tradition, here’s what you need to know.

Photo from National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Of course, our Catholic roots are a result of Spanish colonization, so the tradition of Simbang Gabi undoubtedly started in the early days of their occupation. Because of the undeniable heat of our country, our farmers had to work before daybreak and finish before noon to have at least a margin of comfort in accomplishing their tasks. Mandated to join masses, priests have realized that the default evening masses they held led attendees to be too tired to even listen. Hence, they changed the schedule to be at dawn.

Photo from sampalocmanila

Since 1669, this has become characteristic to Filipino culture and eventually turned into a holiday custom. Now, Filipinos no longer go to the daybreak mass due to social responsibility given to them by the Spanish, but because faith has become part of their identity and the majority of them practice it and celebrate their beliefs through Simbang Gabi.

Photo from St. Joachim Catholic Church

In a Catholic-majority country, Christmas has always been very faith-centered. People wake up at 3 am every day for a week and some to celebrate Christmas approaching, going to well-lit churches with parols and hanging fairy lights all around with their friends and family. It is also a common belief that if you complete all the days of Simbang Gabi, you are granted one Christmas wish that will surely come true.

Photo from Village Pipol

Even with the Philippines’ complex history, we can still see how Filipinos value the traditions that were passed down from our ancestors and carry them with their hearts on their sleeves. If you’re someone who participates in this annual celebration, have a happy Simbang Gabi!

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