As I try to capture the sights and sounds of Christmas through art, I certainly cannot skip on one of the most important traditions in the country – the Simbang Gabi.
Every dawn from the 16th of December to the morning before Christmas, families, friends, individuals flock to churches for the Simbang Gabi.
The Simbang Gabi is a 9-day novena observed by the Roman Catholics and Aglipayans in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The novena ends with the Misa de Gallo on Christmas eve to welcome the birth of the Christ.
Some Protestant churches also hold evening services during those dates to celebrate Christmas.
Its origin could be traced in Mexico, in 1587. That time, the Temple of San Agustin Acolman could not accommodate the huge crowd of people who attends the evening mass. With that, Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the then convent requested the Pope to allow them to hold the Christmas mass outdoors. The Pope granted his petition.
In the Philippines, the early morning mass began during the early days of the Spanish rule to allow the farmers and fishermen to attend the mass as they need to work early in the morning to avoid the noontime heat.
The tradition continues until this day with the churches brightly decorated with lights and parols (Christmas lanterns). And after the mass, they pass by the stalls selling bibingka (rice cakes, can be also made using flour) and puto bumbong (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo) with salabat (fresh ginger tea).
Popular belief is that when one completed the nine 9 masses, that person could receive blessings or what they wish for. However, it is more than that. Simbang gabi is a Christmas tradition that fosters bonds among family members, an even friends. Most importantly, it is way to prepare the people’s hearts in remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.