17 December 2010, Malabon City
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A Simbang Gabi is a nine day Roman Catholic ritual novena performed in the Philippines over 9 days starting on December 16 and ending on December 24. Simbang Gabi, which translates to Evening Mass is usually performed as early as 4 or 5 in the morning. The last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, is called Misa de Gallo, which literally translates to “Rooster's Mass”
The Simbang Gabi originated not just out of devotion, but also due to practicality. In the 333 years that Spain ruled the Philippines, it was customary for the friars and priests (known then as frailes y cura parrocos) to celebrate Holy Mass for the multitudes of Filipinos living in the barrios. In less than two generations after the arrival of the Spaniards, or by 1600, the greater part of the islands have been successfully converted to the Catholic faith.
Simbang Gabi starts so early because of the experience of the Filipinos under the Spanish Regime.
An agricultural country famed for its rice fields and coconut and sugarcane plantations, families then started their day even before the sun would rise. Many farmers (also known as sacadas, campesinos, and casamacs) toiled all day. They only had a break during noon everyday, when the scorching sun would be at its peak. Losing an hour due to the inhospitable temperature, farmers worked very hard and budgeted their time wisely unless they incur the ire of the local encargado, or administrator of the Spanish lord or encomendero / hacendero.
In between the planting season and harvest, their is a lull in the back breaking work imposed on the Filipinos out in the fields. Those who are old enough to sustain manual labor are gathered under the “tributo” system whereby they would have to work for free for the Spanish government, where they were tasked to build everything from cobblestone streets, the felling of trees for new government buildings and other projects. The women also have their share of work. Besides tending to their vegetable gardens or tumana, they were conscripted to work as household help for the local political elite.
The Filipinos worked non stop in the plantations and homes of the ruling Spaniards. Nonetheless, when the annual Christmas season would begin, it was customary to hold novenas around the entire country. The friars and the priests saw that the people, although tired and numb from work, wanted to hear the word of the Lord, even before toiling out in the fields yet again. As a compromise, the clergy began to hold Mass early dawn when the land would still be dark, a break in tradition prevalent in Spain and her Latin American colonies.
Filipinos came by the countless multitudes and afterwards, it became a distinct feature in Philippine culture to celebrate Holy Mass at such a rather early time.
During the Spanish and early American regime, and as with farm workers in every countryside, the parishioners would mostly have nothing to give during the Offertory of the Holy Mass except sacks of rice, fruits and vegetables and fresh eggs. These were graciously accepted by the friars, who, after the Holy Mass, would share the bountiful produce in front of them with the rest of the parishioners while keeping a small portion for the church.
To this day, local delicacies are readily available for the parishioners as they step out of the churches. Latik and Yema candies are sold to children. Biscuits like Uraro, Barquillos, Lengua de Gato and Otap are also sold. Cafe Barako (a very strong coffee grown and ground in the tradition of the province of Batangas) or Salabat (yellow ginger juice served hot) were the main drinks. Arroz caldo (rice and chicken porridge) and Papait (in the Ilocos region) soups abound. Puto bumbong, bibingka, suman and other sweet rice cakes are cooked on the spot under fiery red coals.
On top of the sweets, these types of rice-based foods were traditionally served so as to fill the stomachs of the farmers a long time ago. Rice, being a cheap staple, made one's belly feel full very quickly, and is full of carbohydrates / starch, needed for the backbreaking work in the rice paddies and azucareras that the populace had to endure.
In time, Simbang Gabi became a symbol for Sharing, in both hardship and happiness, for the largely Catholic nation.
Christmas is almost here
17 December 2010, Malabon City