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Nine Mornings of Christmas Mass

Why the Traditional Christmas Evening Masses Are Actually Held in the Morning

The church with beautiful Christmas lights and decors, all set for the night masses

“Simbang Gabi” (or “Night Mass”) part of the Filipino Christmas tradition, it actually held at around 3am for nine successive early mornings from December 16th-24th. According to tradition, the Spanish colonisers decided to hold the “night masses” early in the morning to enable FIlipino farmers to attend it.


Centuries ago, farmers worked from early morning till evening, and feeling too exhausted to attend the night mass would often fall asleep there. So the Spanish friars thought it is better to have the mass during early mornings when the natives had been refreshed by sleeping the night before. And since it was still dark, they retained the term Simbang Gabi or “night mass”.

Since then, the early morning masses that served as a countdown to Christmas day have been called Simbang Gabi. In fact, Simbang Gabi is more popularly known as Misa De Gallo or Missa de Gallo in earlier times which literally meant “the rooster’s mass” referring to how the rooster crows early in the morning to announce the break of dawn.




Puto bungbong (left) and bibingka (right) are traditional treats every Christmas. These are mostly sold outside the church after the Simbang Gabi. Bibingka is a yellow, sponge cake made of rice flour and topped with salted egg or white cheese from carabao’s milk. Puto bumbong is made from glutinous rice steamed in bamboo tubes. It is coloured purple and served with butter, shredded dried coconut and sugar. These two treats are part of the surviving the gruelling nine mornings of attending mass at dawn.


The cool mornings sees colorful jackets and sweaters on people who walk the streets and gather at the church to hear mass. Street-corner stalls sell hot steaming puto bungbong (made with violet sticky rice) and bibingka (delicious rice cake) which are traditional Christmas snacks, and the native lanterns or parol are displayed at the windows of houses.



Traditional Christmas lantern called parol made of paper and wooden sticks –  This one is made of capiz shells and metal frame for years of durability.


The parol (from the Spanish word farol, which means light or lantern) is hung at every window and it serves as a “star” guiding Simbang Gabi devotees who are walking through the dark streets towards the church. The parol represents the “Star of Bethlehem” what guided the Three Wise Men to the birthplace of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.


What is the significance of attending the mass for nine consecutive mornings? In Catholic doctrine, nine is a number associated with “near perfection” or offering prayers to God as an act of living a holy life. For this reason, nine is the basis also for Catholic prayers called novenas. Novenas are special prayers that are prayed for nine consecutive days. Novenas are often associated with prayers to Mother Mary, a saint or an archangel in asking for a petition or a miracle from God through their help.


Using the same concept of the number nine, we have the traditional Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi which is a series of nine masses for nine consecutive mornings. Simbang Gabi is a higher form of a novena. Completing the nine masses for nine consecutive mornings is a big achievement and sacrifice for Catholic devotees because it entails waking up very early and braving the cold weather just to attend mass. In return, one will receive a miracle or even miracles or answer to one’s prayers no matter how impossible it may be as long as God will it, according to Christian belief.


Another belief about Simbang Gabi is the preparation for the afterlife because these masses purifies the soul from sin, thus making one worthy to be with God in heaven in the afterlife.


A third important reason for attending these nine masses is beyond the belief and conviction to receive miracles for a better life. These nine masses prepare the mind and soul for a deeper meaning of Christmas which is about peace, joy and love.


Finally, the major reason why people attend these masses is for thanksgiving to God for the salvation of mankind by sending us a Messiah who is the Child Jesus. Most people also complete these masses as thanksgiving for a year full of blessings.


Have a meaningful Christmas!



Author: Expatch Editorial Team


Image source:

Top photo –

Puto bumbong and bibingka –







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