It surprises foreigners that in the Philippines, Christmas carols play on the radio as early as September (and most Filipinos would refer to it as the “Ber” months), TV and radio stations begin Christmas countdowns 100 days before Christmas. And decor deck not just halls but doors and rooftops with all sorts of lights, lanterns, lighted lanterns with programmed LEDs. Filipinos celebrate Christmas in a big way.
In the Philippines, Christmas season officially begins on the 16th of December, marked by Simbang Gabi, (literally “night mass” though it happens at around 4am), also known as Dawn Mass, Misa de Gallo, and the colorful Mass with the Roosters.
While Mass has always been a solemn event for Filipino Catholics, this year’s opening mass was very solemn indeed. The droves that came to hear Mass at the Saint Joseph’s Cathedral were overflowing, many of the parishioners had to be content to stand in the parking lot where the damage of the October 2013, Magnitude 7.2 quake could not be ignored.
Even with the Tagbilaran sinkhole just less than 500 meters way, Tagbilaranons fearlessly (or in faith) flock to the Cathedral with the hopes of fulfilling the yearly devotion of attending the nine days of Dawn Mass without fail.
Tradition holds that when one completes this sacrifice faithfully one’s prayers will surely be answered. This year it seems like everyone’s prayers are all the same to really and truly have a Merry little Christmas.
What I missed in Tagbilaran this morning are the Christmas vendors. They were nowhere in sight.
In other towns, Dawn Mass also means the coming out of traditional Christmas street food such as bibinka and puto bumbong sold in the vicinity of the churches for when parishioners head back home. Bibinka is a rice cake made with a batter made from rice, baked in a unique charcoal oven formed by a stove on the bottom and a charcoal brazier on top. The bibinka itself could be topped with grated coconut and salted egg.
Puto bumbong looks like purple sausage made of glutinous rice cooked on pipes that serve as chimneys on a steamer. Topped with margarine, sugar and grated coconut it becomes a personal reward for the attendee of the Dawn Mass. It is the promise of a delectable advent breakfast, an added motivation to wake up early and attend Mass.