Last Sunday, we attended a Simbang Gabi or in Spanish Misa de Gallo. It is a Filipino tradition during Christmas time. Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo is actually a Christmas Marian Novena which culminates with the Noche Buena on Christmas Eve.
When we were a colony of Spain, the priests would hold mass very early in the morning (about three a.m.) so the farmers could join the mass before going to the fields, that’s how it got called Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Roosters).
We have carried on this beautiful tradition. The faithful would of course want to complete the novena even though waking up that early is quite a challenge. But there’s a reward to look forward to at the end of the mass. Vendors line up the path going to church with their native rice cakes and ginger ale and coffee. My favorite is puto bumbong, made out of purple gelatinous rice and eaten with freshly grated coconut or the rice bibingka with brushed with beaten eggs with eggs and sliced salted eggs. The bibingka is baked in a makeshift oven using charcoal. But any rice cake would make me very happy and then I would be free to go back to sleep.
The old Filipino traditions this time of year makes Christmas in the Philippines very special. While we are surrounded with material things during Christmas here, back home I could feel the love of my family and friends. The air smells of Christmas. Because it is in the tropics, it is a visual delight and everyone is out busy with errands in preparation for this special holiday.
When we were young, my parents would bring us to visit our cousins in Manila and stay with them for the duration of our vacation. They’d take us to watch the Christmas display at the department stores and one time we watched Holiday on Ice at Araneta Coliseum. Then my mom and her sister would cook up a storm for our Noche Buena. The next day we would go to church with our new outfits.
Just like a traditional Noche Buena, the organizers of the Simbang Gabi invited everyone for dinner and feasted on Filipino specialties. There was succulent lechon (roasted pig), pancit, fried chicken, cocktail egg rolls and rice cakes for dessert. There were Christmas carols both in English and in our language. It was very festive. Hearing the songs in Filipino warmth my heart and made me long for home.