Latest Stories

Simbang gabi goes global as PH export

Now you don’t have to be in the Philippines to experience the age-old tradition of Simbang Gabi and the iconic food that comes with it—bibingka and puto bumbong (native rice cakes).

Simbang Gabi has gone global.

First “imported” from Mexico in the late 16th century, the practice of celebrating Simbang Gabi—or the novena of nine Masses leading up to Christmas Eve—is now being “exported” by the Philippines to a world weary of the commercialization of Christmas and in search of its spiritual meaning.

Fr. Gennie Diwa, head of the office of liturgy of the Archdiocese of Manila, said that for the last three years, he has been receiving inquiries from churchmen abroad—particularly the United States—about the Filipino tradition, whose celebration is quickly spreading there.

Locally, even Protestant churches have taken up the practice after seeing its value in emphasizing the spiritual side of Christmas, Diwa said.


And as the Filipino diaspora continues to spread across the globe, he said Filipinos carry with them the “Filipino Christmas experience,” of which Simbang Gabi is one of the most cherished traditions.

“At the beginning, when Filipinos started to introduce this to the American church, bishops and priests, [they] were so weary about it. They did not like it,” Diwa said in an interview.

“It’s because you have to wake up very early in winter and it’s an added work to the American pastors. But now, surprisingly, we were told that the American church sees the power of Simbang Gabi to help people recover the spiritual meaning of the season,” he said.

“Many of them now accommodate the Filipinos and even try to modify it for the Americans themselves,” he added.


Diwa said Christmas in the United States “is no longer Christmas,” with the popularity of Santa Claus and his reindeers outshining the original Christian character of the season. Also, putting up nativity scenes are blocked in certain areas.

“But they now see the power of Simbang Gabi as a means to spiritual recovery. I think it’s really a help to recover the real meaning of the season,” he added.

Peachy Yamsuan, communications chief of the Archdiocese of Manila, said they have also received inquiries from Filipino communities abroad.

“As early as September and October, we get online inquiries from them asking about the liturgy and the readings for Simbang Gabi,” she said.


But the practice of Simbang Gabi began in these islands after Catholic missionaries from Mexico brought it to the country, according to Diwa.

He said Mexican Catholics at that time began holding early dawn Masses in honor of the Virgin Mary before going out to till their fields at Christmas time.

Catholic missionaries then brought it to the Philippines and Filipinos “enthusiastically adopted it,” even adding their own flavor.

“From my research, it was typically Mexican. They held it at dawn because people wake up early in the morning before they do their farming. It was a way to start the day for nine days in honor of the Blessed Mother and Christmas,” he said.

“I don’t think that the Mexicans still celebrate it… but it became more popular in the Philippines. It was easily accepted here because, although Easter is supposed to be the greatest feast day of the Church, for Filipinos, Christmas in its form and preparation is more popular than Easter,” he added.


Diwa said the Catholic Church normally celebrates its Masses during Advent in a solemn way but Filipinos were able to convince the Vatican to grant the Philippines permission to make Simbang Gabi “festive.”

He said the Filipinos also added “local flavor” through practices like the Panunuluyan (the dramatization of the Holy Family’s search for an inn), singing villancico (upbeat church songs) and the cooking of Christmas delicacies (kakanin), like puto bumbong.

“At the time, the liturgy was inflexible. You cannot change or insert anything. The only thing they could do was the music,” Diwa said.

“So they had the villancico, which is proper for Simbang Gabi. They used tambourines and then ate kakanin and drank salabat (ginger ale) afterwards,” he added.

He said Filipinos were able to “enter into a religious atmosphere” before attending Simbang Gabi by dramatizations like Panunuluyan.

“Before the Mass, they would go house to house and they have songs for these. It highlights the virtue of Filipino hospitality. If you welcome Christ, you are blessed. If you don’t welcome Christ through the stranger, you are cursed,” Diwa said.

“This was Filipino enculturation. This was the way of cathechizing Filipinos of the story of the incarnation. The drama of God knocking at the door and man refusing to answer, with folk flavor,” he added.

Diwa said that at one time, Simbang Gabi became so festive that the Spanish Archbishop of Manila had to suppress its practice.

Solemn but festive

“It became so noisy, the solemnity of the celebration was distracted. So there was a time in the history of the Church in the Philippines when this was abrogated but later on, it was recovered,” he added.

In 1953, the Philippine bishops asked the Vatican for a formal permission to celebrate the Simbang Gabi.

“So, this was granted as a special privilege of the Church in the Philippines to celebrate [Simbang Gabi] in a solemn and festive way,” he said. /INQUIRER.NET

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Bibingka , Export , Food , puto bumbong

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Opinions split on Napoles turning state witness
  3. Delfin Lee: Blame Pag-Ibig, not me
  4. Plunder complaint filed vs PNP chief, firearms office head over license delivery deal
  5. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  6. San Juan cops fail to arrest Cedric Lee
  7. More ‘Yolanda’ bodies found
  8. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  9. Lawyer: Napoles ‘will tell all’
  10. Boy ‘sexually assaulted’ at Indonesia international school
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  3. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  4. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  5. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  6. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  7. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  8. Reckless driver endangered lives of Aquino, entourage–report
  9. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  10. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  9. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
  10. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima


  • What Went Before: Malacañang allies alleged involvement in pork scam
  • Timeline: Napoles tell-all
  • 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  • Napoles surgery in Makati hospital successful
  • Save the queen? Aide takes fall for Enrile, Gigi Reyes
  • Sports

  • Mixers trim Aces; Painters repulse Bolts
  • Donaire junks Garcia as coach, taps father
  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Lifestyle

  • The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  • Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  • Visiting chefs from Denmark get creative with ‘ube,’ ‘ buko,’ ‘calamansi,’ mangoes
  • Salted baked potatoes
  • A first in a mall: Authentic Greek yogurt–made fresh in front of diners
  • Entertainment

  • Return of ‘Ibong Adarna’
  • Practical Phytos plans his future
  • In love … with acting
  • From prison to the peak of success
  • ‘Asedillo’ location thrives
  • Business

  • This time, BIR goes after florists
  • Philippine Airlines to stop shipment of shark fins
  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • PH seeks ‘clearer assurance’ from US
  • China and rivals sign naval pact to ease maritime tensions
  • What Went Before: Manila bus hostage crisis
  • Obama arrives in Tokyo, first stop of 4-nation tour
  • Believe it or not: Filipinos love US more than Yanks
  • Marketplace