The heart of a Filipino Christmas celebration starts around Dec 16th. This marks the 9 days before Christmas and the church tradition called Simbang Gabi starts.
Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo is a novena of masses held at dawn. For the 9 days leading up to December 25th, people go to church very early each morning until the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Folk belief is that you can make a wish after completing all nine masses and it will come true.
As an added incentive to the people who diligently wake up at dawn is the traditional street food that greets them after mass. As one leaves the church, the sweet scent of Bibingka fills the air, and the steam coming out from the contraption that makes Puto Bumbong is always a welcome sight.
Another tradition that begins at this time is Caroling. Groups of children and/or adult carolers sing Christmas songs and play home made instruments as they go from house to house in neighborhoods. They say thank you and leave as soon as the home appreciates their songs by giving them some change.
Simbang Gabi, Caroling, Puto Bumbong and Bibingka are true icons for what makes a Pinoy Christmas. Many OFWs can attest to the fact that if these icons are not present during the season, it almost does not feel like Christmas at all.