Today is the start of a Filipino Christmas tradition called Simbang Gabi. Night mass is held between the hours of four in the morning or before the break of dawn. The devotion of waking up early for mass is done for nine consecutive days from December 16 until Christmas eve.
During the Spanish time Simbang Gabi masses were celebrated very early in the morning so that the farmers could work on the land by sunrise. Laborers needed strength to toil the fields and this is probably the reason why Filipino breakfast is heavy. A typical meal would consist of cured meat or dried fish served with fried rice and eggs.
In some churches today you will find a different kind of laborer…. They are the modern generation of outsourced young professionals and call center agents. They sleep during the day and are up at night. They need to be awake during ungodly hours to work the timezones of different parts of the world. Unlike vampires however they can be found in church to attend the Christmas masses. They are also hungry and would like to eat a hearty meal after their shift.
Perhaps the best part following Simbang Gabi is the communal sharing of breakfast. Traditional Christmas food would be:
Bibingka – rice cakes topped with red eggs, grated coconut and cheese. They are cooked with charcoal in clay pots lined with banana leaves.
Arroz caldo – Filipino rice porridge with boiled egg, garlic and spring onions. It is seasoned with fish sauce and calamansi.
In my younger days I had the energy to wake up so early. I would even walk to church to complete the nine day novena. Today the cold December breeze makes me want to stay in bed. I just hope after my alarm rings I won’t “snooze” too long and end up falling back to sleep.
Pictures by Gloria Salas