Can you tell me about Christmas traditions from the Philippines?

One beautiful Christmas tradition in the Philippines is the novena known as Simbang Gabi, from Tagalog words meaning “night worship” (sometimes translated as “misa de gallo” or “mass of the rooster” because of the early morning hour at which these masses are celebrated.)

Spanish missionaries instituted the custom of celebrating masses on the nine days before Christmas, bringing together the entire community to prepare for the birth of Christ; the early morning hour allowed fishermen and farmers to participate before setting out for the day’s labor. After the Simbang Gabi masses, villagers would socialize and share festival foods.

Today Simbang Gabi masses are celebrated not only in the Philippines but also in many communities throughout the world where there is a significant Filipino presence; sometimes the novena is held in the evening to accommodate modern lifestyles. Filipino families also gather after midnight mass for feasting and rejoicing, continuing the celebration of the Christmas season until the feast of the three kings (Epiphany) on the first Sunday of January. Public celebrations often highlight the inculturated character of the Christmas season, with traditional foods, music and adornments (such as bamboo star lanterns.)

Neela Kale

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.