life and times of angel

Virtual Advent 2011: Midnight Mass

Filipino Christmases are always full of colour and for the last eight years, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing just how lively celebrations can be. Traditions play an important part in a Filipino Christmas, and one that’s particularly close to my heart is the Simbang Gabi, or Midnight Mass.

The Church of the Gesu, Ateneo de Manila University, December 2011 (my old university!) (Photo not mine)

Simbang Gabi is a nine-day devotion to the Virgin Mary, and has become a way of celebrating with the entire community. Traditionally, the masses take place at 4 a.m., but in recent years, evening masses have also been offered to encourage the younger members of the parish to attend. After the mass, many people stay to eat and drink with friends and family–the area surrounding the church is usually full of vendors selling snacks and little gifts.

I have actually never been to more than two Simbang Gabi masses, but the tradition is nevertheless important to me: my parents credit my existence to that devotion. My family is very religious, and after five years of waiting for a child, my mom decided to attend simbang gabi for all nine masses. The following February, she found out she was pregnant with me.

We have since celebrated that tradition by making the snacks one usually finds after the masses. My personal favourite is kutsinta, a sticky rice cake, while my mom prefers bibingka, a steamed cheese-and-rice cake.

Kutsinta with coconut (Photo not mine)

Bibingka (Photo not mine)

While we don’t really do much in the way of Filipino traditions, the food we make reminds us of our heritage and gives us a unique way of celebrating our Filipino/American/Canadian holidays. You can find recipes for both kutsinta and puto bumbong very easily on the internet, but I’ve linked two simple ones here. If you try them out, be sure to let me know–I’d love to know what you think!

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the Virtual Advent Tour, especially my partners for the day: Alex, Amy, Charlotte and Chris! Happy holidays!


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16 replies »

  1. Christmas Novena is one of my favorite Christmas traditions, where I live we customary celebrate it with evening masses minus the food, but it’s still really nice.

  2. Thank you for sharing this tradition. It’s fun to learn about how other cultures celebrate the holidays. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, Angel!

  3. How interesting the Masses would begin at 4 a.m.! I so enjoyed reading about your traditions! I hope you have a very nice Christmas season as you prepare for the holiday this year!


  4. Those snacks look delicious! I have been to a few midnight masses over the year. The one that brings back the most memories was spent in Paris and we walked from the hotel to a local church. The lights were off, the candles were lit, I couldn’t understand a word of it and it was so beautiful!

    Thanks so much for choosing to participate in the tour this year, and I hope you enjoy your Midnight Mass this year.

  5. Wow, those book look really good!! I think it would be fun to try out some food from around the world for Christmas. I was just thinking this week that it would be fun to highlight one country every year and try something new. Philippines, going on my list!

  6. We actually used to go to Midnight Mass when I was younger. I don’t go myself, but it was a Christmas tradition. My mother was Catholic, but we were not specifically raised that way. It was actually the luck of the year. Every other year the service was in French and that is not always my strong suit…

    Thanks for participating in the tour this year!

  7. Wow, that sounds like a wonderful tradition! Thanks for sharing it with us – and thanks for linking to those recipes. They both look so tasty that I’m definitely going to have to try them!

  8. What a great tradition! Our family has experimented with Midnight Mass but my Dad is not much of a night owl so the tradition hasn’t persisted but it is my favorite celebration of the Christmas mass. I like that you have snacks after Mass and they look delicious!

  9. Oh that food looks so yummy! In Portugal we also have a mass, but only one, at midnight of the 24th/25th. We call it the Rooster Mass. According to Wikipedia, “its name to the idea that a rooster would have been among the first to witness the birth of Jesus, and thus be the one to announce it.”

    It was great sharing the Tour’s date with you! 🙂

  10. Wow, that is a truly beautiful church and the treats look almost too pretty to eat! The nine days of church at 4am would exhaust me, but it also sounds lovely! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Love Simbang Gabi! I’ve never actually done it (my family always just did the Christmas Eve mass), but it’s always struck me as a beautiful holiday tradition. I have a friend who does it every year, and her entire neighbourhood has Noche Buena together.

    @Alex – Is Rooster Mass the same as Misa de Gallo? I read that on Wikipedia, and it’s just cool if it’s true, because it’s also sometimes known as Misa de Gallo in the Philippines. 🙂

  12. What a beautiful tradition. Though I am not Catholic, I love the ritual of this tradition. Wonderful that you continue the traditional foods as well. Have a Merry Christmas.

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