Simbang Gabi is a tradition that was introduced by the Spanish friars to allow the farmers to hear mass before going to the fields early in the morning. It is also known by its popular Spanish name as the Misa de Gallo, or “Mass of the rooster”. Simbang Gabi means dawn mass. It is a Filipino tradition that dates back to 1587. It was introduced by the Spanish Missionaries to encourage the faith of the Filipino people. It is a series of nine early morning Masses (novena), starting as early as 4:00a.m.
The tradition begins on December 16th and ends at midnight of December 24th (the Midnight Mass) with Noche Buena. During the Simbang Gabi days, most churches open their doors before the break of dawn to welcome church goers.
To wake people up, church bells start ringing as early as 3 o’clock in the morning. Bright Christmas lights and colorful parols (lanterns) decorate houses and the church. People put on their special clothes and jewelry to got to church. They wear their special sweaters because of the cool December breeze.
After the mass, food stalls outside the church await the church goers for the purchase of the traditional delicacies usually different kakanin (rice cakes), hot pandesal (yeast roll) and empanada (dough breadstuffed withmeat). These traditional foods are usually served with salabat (ginger tea) or coffee. Christmas carols are heard everywhere. You can see joy on the peoples faces.
Simbang Gabi is a spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Some look at it as a way of requesting blessings from the Lord. some believe that if they pray and complete the Novena, their personal wishes/request will be granted.
Filipinos start before dawn to celebrate the real Advent with the coming of the Light of Christ. There is Holy week before Easter, there is Simbang Gabi before Christmas in the Philippines [St Lambert Parish Bulletin].
About the Parol
Parols are iconic symbols of a Filipino Christmas celebration. It evokes the Star that guided the Magi to Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. Traditionally, Parols are used not only to decorate houses but also to light the path or “to guide” the church goers to Churches (Jesus) during the early dawn Masses long before the use of electrical lights in the villages.
But what was the Star the Parol represents? Jimmy Akin discussed about it in his article in the National Catholic Register: 9 Things You Need to Know about Epiphany:
What was the star? It is hard to know. Some question whether the star was a natural phenomenon at all, pointing out that it seems to lead the magi to Jerusalem, disappear, and then reappear and hover over the house in Bethlehem.
But this isn’t what Matthew says. He does not say that the star led them to Jerusalem. They merely report that they had seen the new king’s star “in the east” (Mt. 2:2; that is, back in their homeland), which is why they came to Jerusalem.
What he does say is:
When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was [Mt. 2:9].
This does not necessarily mean that the star appeared to move in the sky in a way that stars don’t ordinarily.
Departing from Jerusalem at night, they may have noted on the short (6 mile) trip to Bethlehem that the star was in front of them in the sky–a coincidence arranged by divine providence.
Then, when they got to the house, they noticed it was directly over the house–again, a coincidence arranged by divine providence but not necessarily an unusual motion for a star.
Thus the question of whether it could have been a natural phenomenon remains. Pope Benedict remarks:
Nevertheless, the question whether or not this was an astronomically identifiable and classifiable celestial apparition was not going to go away.
It would be wrong to dismiss it a priori on account of the theological character of the story.
With the emergence of modern astronomy, developed by believing Christians, the question of this star has been revisited [Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives].
Various proposals have been made, including for rare astronomical phenomena like the conjunction of certain planets in certain constellations, or supernovas.
Which of these, if any, might have been the Bethlehem star depends on precisely when Jesus was born,