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Home NEWS Filipiniana Going to Mass at Christmas

Going to Mass at Christmas

Filipinos are said to celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world. As early as September, Christmas carols are heard on the air; and people do not take down their Christmas decor until the New Year celebrations have passed.

The celebration of Christmas formally begins with the Misa de Aguinaldo or Simbang Gabi. Misa de Aguinaldo (Gift Mass) alludes to the Magi’s gifts to Baby Jesus after he was born in a manger in Bethlehem.

For nine days before the Nativity, children and adults alike wake up very early to hear mass at four or five in the morning as a spiritual preparation for the commemoration of the Savior’s birth. As Alejandro R. Roces describes,

In the rural areas, an hour or so before the Mass, a band plays “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit,” traditional villancicos, and carols all over town. In some communities, the parish priest goes as far as banging on each and every door. The whole town is up for the Misa de Aguinaldo.
Both rural and urban residents religiously attend Simbang Gabi without questioning why it has to be “at such an ungodly hour.” Filipinos in the United States, Canada, Austria, Singapore, and other countries continue this tradition by scheduling their own Christmas Masses, usually in the evenings.  

The Misa de Aguinaldo started in Mexico when, in 1587, Fray Diego de Soria, head monk of the Convent of San Agustin Acolman, asked permission from the Pope to hold Christmas Masses outdoors because the church could not have room for everyone who went to the services. Later, Pope Sixtus V ruled that in the Philippines, pre-Christmas dawn masses would be held starting December 16. The decree was in keeping with the nine-day festivals of Filipinos to celebrate special occasions. The masses were held during the harvest season in the Philippines, and the farmers had to be in the fields before sunrise. So as an accommodation, the Masses were moved up to four o’clock in the morning.

After the service, Filipinos enjoy puto bumbong, bibingka, tsokolate de batirol, and salabat. The novena ends on Christmas Eve with a midnight mass known as Misa de Gallo, which, translated, means “Mass of the Rooster.” Today the terms Misa de Gallo and Misa de Aguinaldo are used interchangeably. Christmas Eve concludes with a Noche Buena feast after the midnight mass.


Alejandro, Reynaldo Gamboa and Marla Yotoko Chorengel. Pasko! The Philippine Christmas. Manila: National
Bookstore, Inc. and Anvil Publishing, Inc., 1998.

Christmas in the Philippines. Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1990.

Filway Marketing, Inc. Filway’s Philippine Almanac. Makati City: Filway Marketing, Inc., 1991.

Reyes, Cid, ed. Pasko: Essays on Philippine Christmas. Quezon City: Larawan Books, 1993.

Roces, Alejandro R. Fiesta. Manila: Vera-Reyes, Inc., 1980.

Photo Source: Philippine Christmas: Art & Form (Manila, 2002). Photograph by Manny Santos.

 Photo Source: Philippine Christmas: Art & Form (Manila, 2002). Photograph by Manny Santos.