A Simbang Gabi is a nine day Roman Catholic ritual novena performed in the Philippines over 9 days starting on December 16 and ending on December 24. Simbang Gabi, which translates to Mass at dawn is usually performed as early as 4 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”.
The Simbang Gabi originated not just out of devotion, but also due to practicality. In the 333 years that Spain ruled the Philippines, it was customary for the friars and priests to celebrate Holy Mass for the multitudes of Filipinos living in the barrios. In less than two generations after the arrival of the Spaniards, or by 1600, the greater part of the islands have been successfully converted to the Catholic faith.
Simbang Gabi starts so early because of the experience of the Filipinos under the Spanish Regime.
Misa de Gallo is the Spanish phrase for Midnight mass, more literally translated as “Rooster’s Mass”.
It is said that the “Rooster’s Mass” owes its name to the idea that a rooster would have been among the first to witness the birth of Jesus, and thus be the one to announce it.
In most Spanish speaking countries, La Misa del Gallo entails a typical midnight mass, starting at around 12:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. To see “La Misa Del Gallo” clearly go to Montserrat, high in the mountain near Barcelona.
In the Philippines, the prayer is done early morning on Christmas Eve, and it is the last day of a nine-day ritual known as Simbang Gabi. Completing the nine days culminating with the Misa de Gallo is equal to a wish come true, and many Filipinos believe this centuries-old promise to this day.
One of the customs related to the Philippine Misa de Gallo is the selling of traditional Philippine food, such as puto bumbong (a purple colored rice pastry, seasoned with grated—coconut and brown sugar), tsokolate (a hot chocolate drink), bibingka (flour and egg cakes cooked on top and under), and salabat, or ginger tea, which are sold by vendors to the faithful outside churches.