Christmas Novena Begins

Christmas Novena Begins

Christmas customs are strikingly varied around the world. One custom is the Christmas Novena—the nine days before Christmas. Today, December 16, is the first day of the Christmas Novena celebration  in Philippines.

One of the cultural shocks I had when I first went to the rural Philippines in 1979 was the fact that everything started at the crack of dawn, because there was no electrical power. Getting an early start allows for the maximum use of the limited daylight hours. Thus, work and most forms of public transportation—boats, buses, and jeepneys—started their daily trips very early.

Even though I grew accustomed to their early hours, I was completely shocked by the way in which Filipinos celebrate the Christmas Novena. Church bells ring around 3 a.m. to awaken folks and call them to the Simbang Gabi, or night Mass, before 4 a.m. Churches and chapels are decorated in keeping with the means of the people. Available forms of light—usually kerosene pressure lanterns in rural areas—are used to illuminate the place of worship. Christmas carols and hymns are sung. Priest and ministers must vest in white because the Christmas celebration has begun and Advent is over in the eyes of the faithful.

Sometimes called the Misa de Gallo—literally. the rooster’s Mass—the celebration of the Christmas Novena is a custom brought by Spanish missionaries. The custom was adapted to the life of Filipino people. If you think 7 a.m. Mass is early, try arising for 4 a.m. Mass. Today, the custom may be adapted to a late night vigil Mass—say at 8:30 or 9 p.m.—because urban schedules move in accord with city work days. However, the “real celebration” has to be around 4 a.m. Bottle rockets and aerial bombs are often used to awaken the area’s residents. After Mass, people drink sweet ginger tea called salabat. Traditional foods after Mass are bibingka and puto, types of cakes made from rice, sugar, and coconut.

Some Filipinos refer to the Christmas Novena as the Misa Aguinaldo, or gift Mass, because the sacrifice entailed in rising so early is considered an offering to the newborn Christ child. That it is a sacrifice, I certainly agree.

Here in Cincinnati there are many immigrant Filipinos who have adopted the U.S.A. as their new homeland. They still like to celebrate the Simbang Gabi on at least one Sunday during the Christmas Novena. (The Filipino community in Cincinnati celebrated only on Sunday, December 15, at around 6 a.m. Other days are more or less impossible because of work schedules.) The Simbang Gabi is a tribute to Filipino cultural origins and a contribution to solidarity. Probably, the Christmas Novena Mass will be an opportunity to raise additional funds to assist victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

However Christmas is celebrated, I hope the Christmas Novena will be a time for praising God because Jesus the Lord assumed our human flesh.


Image:  PhotoXpress, Wenani


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.
  • wbua


    FelixJrBayona has nice Philipino Novenas on You-Tube.Magellan has ties to
    the Novenas of Sto. Nino of Cebu.


  • Melito Pinili

    Thank you Fr. Dan for this good info, from fr. Lito pinili,OFM -Sudan