Simbang Gabi
Simbang Gabi Mass at the Saint Joseph Parish Church of Las Piñas
Also calledMisa de Aguinaldo
Misa de Gallo (for the last Mass observed in Simbang Gabi)
Observed byFilipino Catholics
Liturgical colorWhite
TypeNine-day series of Masses
SignificanceChristmas season
  • December 16
  • December 15 (anticipated)
  • December 24
  • December 23 (anticipated)
First time1669
Related toMisa de Gallo

Simbang Gabi (/sim.ˈbʌŋ.ˈɡʌ.ˌbi/; Filipino for "Night Mass") is a devotional, nine-day series of Masses attended by Filipino Catholics in anticipation of Christmas. It is similar to the nine dawn Masses leading to Christmas Eve practiced in Puerto Rico called Misa de Aguinaldo. Originally intended as a practical compromise for farmers that started working in the fields before sunrise,[1] this cherished Christmas custom eventually became a distinct feature of Philippine culture and became a symbol of sharing.[2]

Simbang Gabi is held daily from December 16 to 24, and occur at different times ranging from as early as 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.[3] Anticipated celebrations, meanwhile, are held from December 15 to 23, typically at 8:00 p.m, or as late as 11:00 p.m or at midnight. On the last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the service is instead called Misa de Gallo (Spanish for "Rooster's Mass").


Simbang Gabi originated in 1669 during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, as a practical compromise for farmers who began working before sunrise. When the Christmas season would begin, it was customary to hold novenas in the evenings, which was more common in the rest of the Hispanic world, but the priests saw that the people would attend despite the day's fatigue. As such, with the Philippines being an agricultural country known for its rice, coconut and sugarcane plantations, the clergy began to say Masses in the early morning while it was still dark before people went out to work the land.[1]

From 1680 to 1689, however, this practice was temporarily halted following a decree from the Holy See against the singing of hymns in native languages. The decree was also implemented in Spain, the Azores, and Mexico. At the time, the hymns may only be sung in the start and end of the Tridentine Mass. Following the death of the then-Archbishop of Manila Felipe Pardo, priests resumed the celebration of the pre-dawn Masses. It would eventually become an important cultural tradition in the Philippines at the turn of the 19th century.[4]

In 1953, the First Plenary Council of the Philippines petitioned the Holy See to continue the practice of Misa de Gallo, which was later granted. In 1961, the Vatican granted the continuation of the indult.[5]

On December 15, 2019, Gaudete Sunday, Pope Francis led the celebration of Simbang Gabi for the Filipino Catholic community at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, making it the first time a pope led the traditional Mass.[6]

Current practices

Manila Cathedral decorated with lights for Simbáng Gabí.
Simbang Gabi at Ibaan Church, Batangas

Liturgically, Simbang Gabi is a series of votive Masses celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[5] White is the liturgical color authorized solely for Masses celebrated within the context of the novena; violet is used for any other Masses said during the day, as these are still considered part of the Advent season. On Sundays covered by the novena, the propers and readings are taken from the Sunday liturgy but the liturgical color is still white. Filipinos celebrate this Mass with great solemnity and the Gloria is sung (which is otherwise forbidden the rest of the day).[7]

The Mass usually begins at four o’clock in the morning.[8] Pope Sixtus V ordered that Mass must be heard before sunrise since it was the harvest season,[9] and farmers needed to be in the fields right after the liturgy.[3]

Simbang Gabi is also celebrated in malls, usually in open spaces. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila discouraged the celebration of Mass in malls, except when a mall has its own chapel.[10]

Evening celebrations of Simbang Gabi are also held from December 15 until 23. Erroneously described as "anticipated Simbang Gabi" since Vigil or Anticipated Masses are only applicable for Sundays and solemnities,[4] these are done especially in urban areas. However, the propers and readings used for these Masses are those which are prescribed for the day. Although practiced in some parishes, "Anticipation" of the propers and readings prescribed for the next day are allowed by some dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Manila, except for Masses on Sunday evening.[11]

A well-known folk belief is that if a devotee completes all nine days of the Simbang Gabi, God may grant a request made as part of the novena.[12]

To give the faithful a chance to experience how Simbang Gabi was celebrated during the Spanish Era, groups which celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass also have the Simbang Gabi in candlelight, using locally composed, centuries-old settings for the Propers and Ordinaries of the Mass.[13]


Bibingka rice cakes, one of the dishes commonly associated with Simbang Gabi

During the Spanish Era and early American Period, the parishioners would mostly have nothing to offer during Mass except sacks of rice, fruits and vegetables, and fresh eggs. The Church would share the produce with the congregation after the service.[citation needed]

After Mass, Filipinos buy and eat holiday delicacies sold in the churchyard for breakfast. Bibingka (rice cakes cooked above and below) and puto bumbong (steamed purple rice pastries, seasoned with butter, grated coconut, and brown sugar) are popular, often paired with tsokolate (hot chocolate from local cacao) or salabát (ginger tea).[1]

Today, local delicacies are readily available in the church's premises for the parishioners. The iconic puto bumbóng, bibingka, suman and other rice pastries are cooked on the spot. Latík and yema are sweets sold to children, while biscuits like uraró (arrowroot), barquillos, lengua de gato and otap (ladyfingers) are also available. Kapeng barako (a very strong coffee grown in the province of Batangas), hot tsokolate, or salabat are the main drinks, while soups such as arróz caldo (rice and chicken porridge) and papait (goat bile stew from the Ilocos region) are also found.[1]

The rice-based foods were traditionally served to fill the stomachs of the farmers, since rice is a cheap and primary staple. The pastries were full of carbohydrates needed by colonial Filipinos for the work they undertook in the rice paddies and sugar mills.

Those attending the evening Masses add these to dinner served after the liturgy.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Dy-Zulueta, Dolly (December 15, 2023). "Christmas in the Philippines: Why Simbang Gabi is an important Filipino tradition". Philstar. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  2. ^ Roces, Alfredo; Roces, Grace (2009). CultureShock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (7th ed.). Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Editions. ISBN 978-0-7614-5671-1.
  3. ^ a b Rodell, Paul A. (2002). Culture and Customs of the Philippines. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-30415-7.
  4. ^ a b "From 'Misa de Gallo' to 'Simbang Gabi'". December 16, 2022. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  5. ^ a b Dela Peña, Kurt (December 17, 2021). "'Simbang Gabi': Facing COVID-19 with hope". Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  6. ^ Esmaquel, Paterno R. II (December 16, 2019). "Pope Francis leads Simbang Gabi: 'Be smugglers of faith'". Rappler. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  7. ^ "Manila archdiocese reminder: no Simbang Gabi at mall corridors". GMA News. December 15, 2012. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  8. ^ Nepomuceno, Priam (December 12, 2017). "Simbang Gabi: Keeping a Christmas tradition alive". Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  9. ^ "Going to Mass at Christmas". Filipinas Heritage Library. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  10. ^ Rosales, Gaudencio B. (November 15, 2010). "Guidelines on the Celebration of Simbang Gabi In the Archdiocese of Manila". Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. Archived from the original on December 22, 2014. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  11. ^ Hermoso, Christina (November 17, 2023). "Manila archdiocese releases guidelines for 'Simbang Gabi', Christmas Eve masses". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
  12. ^ Felipe, Marvin-Paul R. (December 14, 2011). "The Origin and Meaning of the Simbang Gabi Novena". Catholic San Francisco. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  13. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Q.C. Parish Holds Simbang Gabi in Latin". YouTube.