Christmas is one of the world’s most widely-recognized and celebrated holidays. From Europe’s Christmas markets to the USA’s holiday shopping frenzy, in some places it is difficult to walk down the street without knowing that Christmas is approaching. Nowhere, however, is Christmas a bigger deal than in the Philippines.
Here, you may start hearing Christmas carols as early as September, and you aren’t likely to see any Christmas decorations come down until the Feast of Santo Niño de Cebu on the third Sunday of January.
The peak of the Filipino Christmas season begins on December 16th, with Simbang Gabi. This term, meaning “night mass”, features daily pre-dawn masses from the 16th through Christmas Eve, a total of nine. It is believed that God grants the special wish of anyone who makes it to all nine.
In more devout parishes, these masses take place between 3:00am and 5:00am, although in some places (especially in Filipino-heavy parishes outside of the Philippines), the masses are held the preceding evening. Traditionally, attendees follow the mass by having coffee or hot chocolate along with traditional foods, such as bibingka (a cake made with rice flour and eggs) or puto bumbong (a sticky purple rice coated in brown sugar and coconut).