Simbang Gabi (Evening Mass)

Simbang Madaling araw (Mass at Dawn)

Simbang Gabi is a nine-day Roman Catholic and Aglipayan ritual novena performed in the Philippines which starts from December 16 and ends on December 24. Simbang Gabi, which translates to Evening Mass is usually performed as early as 3 or 5 in the morning. The last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, is called Misa de Gallo, which literally translates to “Rooster’s Mass” – This is according to Wikipedia, not that the Wikipedia is wrong in that matter of course.

It is said that this nine-day ritual novena started in the Spanish Era – which means, sometime in their 333 years of ruling. Filipinos are attending masses in the evening because they had to work all day – either in the farm (since the Philippines is an Agricultural country to begin with) or as house helpers of the richer family. But since it is customary for the Filipinos to attend masses before Christmas, they do so even if they’re worn out from physical labor all day. The parishioners noticed the eagerness of the Filipinos to attend the evening masses but since they’re all worn out, they couldn’t listen properly to the words-of-god. So, as a compromise, they started holding masses before dawn – before they started working in the fields.

A little bit of History.

Even after we were freed from the Spanish Colonization, we are still continuing the life, tradition, culture and religion they have left us. Some year before our generation was born, Spanish subjects are still mandatory in every class – obviously, not anymore. We still use their words instead of ours (e.g. Tag. Abante,. Spa. Avante,. Meaning: Ahead, Forward.) Catholicism became the de facto state religion in the Philippines after some time. Almost 80% of the Filipinos are comprised by Catholics.

According to an elementary text book, the reason why the Spanish regime decided to conquer the Philippines is, one, to colonize the Philippines and participate in the spice trade that was at the time dominated by Portugal. Secondly, Spain wanted to utilize the geographical location of the Philippines to trade with China and Japan and to spread Christianity to those advanced civilizations. Thirdly, one of Spain’s main goals was to Christianize the people of the archipelago – which they’ve all managed eventually.

Spain colonized the Philippines from 1565 to 1898. 333 years is long. Just long enough for the Filipinos to get used to the Spanish ways, tradition, culture and religion. The colonial masters required the native Filipinos to swear allegiance to the Spanish monarch, where before they only had village chieftains called “datus;” to worship a new God, where before they worshipped a whole pantheon of supernatural deities and divinities; to speak a new language, where before they had (and still have) a Babel of tongues; and to alter their work habits, where before they worked within the framework of a subsistence economy. The Spanish landholding system based on private ownership of land replaced the Filipino system of communal land ownership. Thus, when the Spanish rule ended, the Filipinos found many aspects of their way of life bearing the indelible imprint of Hispanization.

The Spanish have managed to Hispanized the Filipinos in all ways. It is evident even when we tell time (“alas tres cuarenta y singko”), in our family names (De Guia, Santos, Hernandez, Castillo…) – before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines, the Filipinos doesn’t have a last name nor do we have papers to say we own something – that’s according to my old history book that I found laying about in the room.

The original Simbang Gabi was called Misa Aurea (golden mass or angel’s mass).

Today – Simbang Gabi.

December 16 marked the first day of Evening Mass for the Filipinos this year – as it does every year. My sisters and I had a habit of attending the first mass which starts at three in the morning. It’s not much of a bother for us of course to sleep in until thirty minutes before three for preparation. You see, our house is located just a 2-minute walk from the church.

Today’s mass talked about youths. How we, don’t serve well. Since, we all seemed to have, focusing problems. An example given is, watching the television while listening to the radio and cooking at the same time. The priest mentioned about the three “S” that we should always take note whenever we serve. Service, Sacrifice and … that’s it. I could’ve sworn the priest mentioned Three “S” but I could also swear that I only heard him mention just those two.

After the mass, we bought 4 orders of puto bumbong (Traditionally made from a special variety of heirloom sticky or glutinous rice called Pirurutong which has a distinctly purple color, soaked in salted water and dried overnight and then poured into bumbong or bamboo tubes and then steamed until done or steam rises out of the bamboo tubes. It is served topped with butter or margarine and shredded coconut mixed with sugar.) and feasted with our parents at home with (free) tea. After that, we returned to bed to sleep.


Info: Puto bumbong and Bibingka (another type of rice cake that is common during Christmas season) are famous during this season. I’ve read in an article that the reason why rice cakes like these two are common and delicacies in the Philippines goes back to the – guess when, Spanish Era (what a surprise, right?) When they started making the evening mass into masses before dawn, the Filipinos responded by eating or selling foods like these after so they can head straight to work.

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