Misa de Gallo (Pre-Dawn Mass)

Merry Christmas! This day, December 16, is considered the official start of the Christmas season in the Philippines. During the very early hours of the morning (literally before the gallo or rooster crows), millions troop to  churches all over the country to hear the first of the pre-dawn masses celebrated daily until the 23rd. Traditional belief is that if one manages to attend all eight pre-dawn masses plus the midnight mass on Christmas eve, one will have a wish granted on Christmas Day.

Also called simbang gabi or aguinaldo mass, the pre-dawn rites also mark the unveiling of the parish church’s Christmas creche or Nativity scene which is locally known as the belen.

The misa de gallo is a test of faith, willpower and endurance for Filipinos of all ages. By the fourth or fifth day, it is not uncommon to see at least one churchgoer faint from a combination of hunger, lack of proper sleep, and in some instances, boredom (haha). Definitely not battling boredom are the young couples who take advantage of the semi-darkness of the church grounds to engage in a little courtship/flirting, under the can’t-be-watchful eyes of their parents. Or so I’ve heard. 🙂

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Does your community observe a similar Christmas tradition (religious or otherwise)? I know that Christmas Eve midnight masses are quite common in other parts of the world  but what are your other community traditions?

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Because it is now Christmas in the Philippines, here’s something extra for my Filipino readers. This is one of the most popular Filipino Christmas songs and a track from what many consider to be the definitive Filipino Christmas album, Pamasko ng Mga Bituin. Sing along if you want. Maligayang Pasko! 🙂


37 thoughts on “Misa de Gallo (Pre-Dawn Mass)

  1. Interesting tradition! We do not celebrate 8 Misas del Gallo – just the one on Christmas Eve and it is usually celebrated at 10 pm in most churches and at 12 midnight in the cathedral.
    Interesting name, “del aguinaldo” … does it refer to the bonus that you get paid at the end of the year?

  2. I wondered about that, too because aguinaldo is also what we call the gifts children get from their godparents (a Christmas tradition that now leaves a terrible hole in my wallet as I am godmother many times over, hahaha). This one, though, refers to the shepherds’ gift to the baby Jesus. Some also use the term ‘aguinaldo mass’ to mean only the Christmas Eve midnight mass which has a similar schedule to yours.

    • Interesting how you see the same (Spanish) words used in different contexts, isn’t it.
      Question: do you normally exchange presents for Christmas or do you rather do it for Epiphany (Three Kings, Reyes?) like they do in Spain?

      • We exchange gifts on Christmas Day. Three Kings (is it also the 1st or 2nd Sunday of January in Spain?) is when we take down the Christmas decorations. 🙂

        By the way, in offices all over the country, employees also exchange gifts during their Christmas parties. We are really big on Christmas, haha.

        • In Spain and I all of Latin America I guess, we celebrate Reyes (Three Kings) on Jan. 6. In Spain is a huuuuuge holiday. The previous day people attende the parade in which the Three Kings ride in their camels around the town, handing gifts, candy, etc. On the 6th (a holiday, no one goes to work) the families exchange gifts, young and old, and they normally go from house to house (visiting the aunts, uncles, etc.) to pick the presents that the Three Kings have “delivivered” during the night.

          In Argentina it is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that are more of a big deal. Presents are left by the “Niño Dios” (Baby Jesus) for the family by the Christmas
          tree. On THree Kings Day it is normally just the kids that receive presents, and it is not a holiday. We normally take down the Christmas decorations on this day too.

            • It seems we have the same traditions, although when it comes to gifts the Nino Jesus has been replaced by ‘Santa Claus’, hehe.
              The Reyes day in Spain sounds like a very exciting holiday. 🙂

  3. This post brought back memories of my childhood in the Philippines. I remember my parents waking me up to go to simbang gabi and as a child who wants to get up that early so I was rewarded by bringing home…I don’t know what they’re called from what I can remember they’re like hot pancakes served in banana leaves and sold outside the church.

  4. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thanks for sharing this tradition with your readers. I need to create more traditions with my other half and family members that visit since settling into a new community. We gather and spend quality time on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve is a little more of a festive gathering. No children just adults so I find it a little challenging when creating traditions.

    • Thanks, Renee. A Merry Christmas to you, too!
      I’m sure you’ll be finding community traditions as you get to know your new place more. Maybe something like the Parade of Lights? 🙂

    • There’s an old coffee house in my hometown that serves puto bumbong from Dec. 16 only and they sell out fast after the misa de gallo. I miss that, too. 🙂

  5. I love learning about the traditions in each country and culture. Ha! ha! I enjoyed the part about the the youngsters making the most of the dark in the church.We didn’t celebrate Christmas traditionally, but we always had presents( usually a long list of books 🙂 I now do the same for my girls. We start decorating the tree with carols, food and hot chocolate. They count down the days, bake cookies for Santa, and on Christmas day we sit in our pajamas opening presents. This year we are going to Orlando with my hubby’s family, so we are opening (some) gifts 3 days earlier.

    • The day I posted this, an article in newspaper came out about how a priest asked the young people in his parish to reconsider their motives for going to misas de gallo, hahaha. And I thought the priests were oblivious to what was going on outside while he was saying Mass. 😀

  6. Merry Christmas Tita Buds. A beautiful picture and an interesting tradition. We do a midnight Christmas mass. I love the incense and the formalness of it all. It takes me back to when I was little and everything reminds me of my Mom and Dad.

  7. We aren’t always able to go to the pre-dawn masses but we never miss the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. (I love the smell of incense, too.) On the walk home from church, families greet one another a merry Christmas. It’s one of those moments when everything in the world seems alright. 🙂
    A Merry Christmas to you, too!

  8. Hey, TB! I am sure (and hoping) that you’re super busy with holiday prep, but I know there’s been some stormy weather (right?) in your general area lately, so are you okay?

    • Hi, Kate, yes, we’re OK here. The calamity was in the southern part of my country and it’s been really, really bad for a lot of my countrymen. Thank you for your concern. I was busy over the holidays but now I’m getting a breather. 🙂

      • Oh, I’m so relieved for your safety. Hope you’re recovering well from the craze of Christmas! Looking forward to your next post.

  9. *waves* Hi! Just wanted to say Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a pleasant holiday season. Miss you and hope you’re back soon! woo woo woo!

  10. Enjoyed this post, Tita Buds! And the song was delightful! We were sick this year during Christmas and the following week. Not fun! Hope your holidays were happy!

    • Thanks! I was battling with some ailments during the holidays, too but it was fun nonetheless. I hope you’re fine now and that your camera wasn’t really all that lonely last Christmas. It would be great to see some pictures that you took. 🙂

  11. Hi Tita,
    Your photos are beautiful, especially that first one. Thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions with us. Ours are very simple. Church in the early evening on Christmas Eve, home for a candlelight dinner, and then we play music and sing Christmas carols. I have trouble saying goodbye to the tree. It stays up until my husband can’t stand it any longer, and starts worrying that it is so dry it will catch fire from the lights. So Christmas is officially over when Thom takes down the tree, but the twinkle lights stay up year round.

    • How cheery to have those lights up all year. 🙂 We can afford to have our tree up even until the new year because our tree is fake, hehe!
      I wasn’t able to take part in the misa de gallo tradition this year because it was almost Christmas Day when I got back. I actually missed the sound of neighbors chatting on the streets at godawful hours on their way to church. 😀

      • I missed the sound of the kids getting up early to look in their stockings while the grownups steal ten more minutes of sleep. Now the kids are grown up enough to want ten more minutes too. Have a Happy New Year, Tita.

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