It has been widely known to the world and proudly to proclaim that in the Philippines, Christmas celebration to be the longest and merriest in the world. It formally begins every 16th of December, with attendance at the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses and continues on nonstop until the first Sunday of January, Feast of the Three Kings, the official end of the season.
Simbang Gabi is about three centuries old, having begun sometime in the 1700s. A Spanish friar gathered his flocks of farmers during harvest time – coinciding with the Christmas season – and together they gave thanks for the bountiful harvest. Group singing was encouraged during the gathering and a simple breakfast was served afterwards. From then on these farmers willingly observed those early mornings as a time for worship, and it became a tradition over time.
These nine dawn Masses, usually starting at four o’clock in the morning, are considered a novena by the Catholic and Aglipayan faithful. Going to mass this early for nine consecutive days is meant to show the churchgoer’s devotion to his faith and to heighten anticipation for the Nativity of the Lord. A traditional Filipino belief, however, is that those who complete the novena will have a special wish or favor granted by God.