Filipino Catholics traditionally prepare for Christmas by attending nine Masses dedicated to Mary.
The custom is called Misa de Gallo or “Mass of the Rooster” in Spanish, and Simbang Gabi, “Night Mass” in Tagalog. It dates back to the 17th century, when farmers and other laborers attended early worship during the Christmas season so they could receive blessings before going to work.
Over the centuries, the tradition of morning Mass evolved into a way to honor Mary and spiritually prepare for Jesus’ coming on Christmas Day. Misa de Gallo refers to the dawn rooster crows that used to greet worshippers headed to church.
It has been a tradition at Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek for 26 years. This year the large Filipino community celebrated on Dec. 15-23. Simbang Gabi was celebrated at Jesus, Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg.
In the Philippines, Masses are usually held at 4 or 5 a.m., but in the United States, the schedule has changed to accommodate work and family. In Goose Creek all but one liturgy started at 7:30 p.m.
“People of all ages take part, and our non-Filipino parishioners also look forward to this tradition,” said Adorno Father H. Nestor Abog Jr., parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception. “It’s a chance to show the faith of the Filipino community, our devotion to the Blessed Mother, and our great love for the church.”
Father Abog said families in the Philippines walk to church together for Mass at dawn, and people sell food outside afterward.
At Immaculate Conception, each liturgy was in English and featured carols dedicated to Mary sung in Tagalog. Afterward people enjoyed traditional cuisine in the parish hall.
Father Abog said the community received permission from the Vatican to sing the Gloria, because the prayer is usually not sung during Advent. Priests also wore white vestments at each Mass.
Filipinos in Goose Creek started Misa de Gallo in 1985 to preserve a beloved tradition that reminds them of home, said Sally Ani, a parishioner who has attended all the celebrations.
“We honor the blessed Virgin Mary for nine nights, and it’s significant because it strengthens our relationship with family and friends,” Ani said. “Our faith is also strengthened through spiritual preparation for Christmas. We’re offering sacrifice for more blessings from our Lord before he comes into the world on Dec. 25.”
Many families get together during this time, and it’s also a good opportunity for members of the Filipino community to reconnect, Ani said.