In many English speaking countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December.
Normally on the 24th families stay at home, with the children anxious for the arrival of father Christmas. Then, on the 25th Christmas is celebrated with a Christmas lunch of potatoes, vegetables and with varying meat based upon the region.
However, Spain is different. In Spain, Christmas is normally celebrated on the night of the 24th in what is commonly known as “la misa del gallo.”
La misa del gallo (Rooster Mass) is celebrated in Spain, and other Spanish influenced countries, as a religious celebration of the birth of Jesus, from the moment that the bell chimes in the start of the 25th of December.
What is La misa del gallo?
La misa del gallo which translates to English literally as “Rooster mass” is the name of the mass that normally takes place as the clock strikes midnight on Christmas eve.
This signals the start of the celebrations to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. As a primarily Catholic country, this mass is held in almost every church and forms an integral part of Spanish culture, and Spanish Christmas traditions.
Why is it called La misa del gallo?
There are several theories as to why the mass is referred to as la misa del gallo.
One stipulates that it is called such as the rooster was one of the animals present when the baby Jesus was born and was in fact, the first living being to see him. It also says that the rooster itself announced his birth by crowing.
Another theory is that the Pope III wanted to have a special mass to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ.
When deciding at what time the mass should be held, he stated “ad galli cantus”, which when translated from Latin to English means when the rooster crows.
Whilst nowadays we associate a rooster crowing with the break of dawn and when the sun rises, the Romans did not. The Romans instead said that the rooster crowed at the turn of a new day, which meant literally when the clock struck midnight. Thus, it became commonplace that the new mass was held as the clock struck midnight and marked the new day.
A simpler theory, and also the one that most scholars agree upon, puts forth that it is called la misa del gallo because fried chicken was the most common food served on the special night to celebrate.
And so, because of this, the most popular dish for the celebrations gave its name to the new mass.
What happens in La misa del gallo?
Nowadays, la misa del gallo is not necessarily celebrated at midnight. This can be due to a variety of reasons such as lack of public transport or the location being remote.
The Vatican, due to health reasons, have recently changed the hour at which they celebrate the Christmas mass so that they end up celebrating the misa del gallo at 10pm instead of at midnight.
But the time that the mass is held is based solely on the church holding it and their situation.
Why does Spain celebrate La misa del gallo?
La misa del gallo is still celebrated in many regions of Spain to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, and is a constant in their Christmas traditions, with other traditions being added to the Christmas norms based on each province.
Catalonia, for example, celebrates la misa del gallo and they also hold their own tradition of tio de nadal, which is a log that is “pooping”, which is fattened up during the run up to Christmas so that it can be added to the fire on Christmas day.
In Galicia, the family gather on the 24th to sing panxoliñas (Christmas carols) and await the arrival of the Apalpador or Pandigueiro who comes down from the mountains to bring good boys and girls chestnuts.
So whilst the way in which Spaniards celebrate Christmas in various different ways based on the region, the one constant is la misa del gallo.
Are there other countries that celebrate La misa del gallo?
As with many traditions that originated from Spain, they are also reflected in mainly Latin American countries and other Spanish influenced countries such as in the Philippines.
In the Philippines, La misa del gallo is known as Simbang Gabi, which translates into English as night mass.
It is celebrated in a part of a nine day celebration leading up to Christmas, and takes place as the last of the 9 night masses.
These masses normally take place anywhere between 3 and 5 in the morning. The reason behind this goes back to when the Philippines was still a Spanish colony; and due to the heat would lose time to tend to their farms.
The colonizers saw that the natives would still come to mass at the end of the day regardless of how tired they were.
Due to this, the time of the mass was changed so that it was held in the early morning, to avoid the excessive heat of the day and to not take away the time that the people used to farm their lands.
Also in Latin America the Spanish tradition of celebrating Christmas on the night of the 24th still persists. In comparison with English speaking countries, the Spanish influence still exists and families and friends can be seen gathering to celebrate the night with dinner and fun and games.
In conclusion, whilst people that come from English speaking countries are taking it easy at home, waiting for Father Christmas to arrive.
People in Spain normally are going to la misa del gallo and then having a feast afterwards to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and as they say in Spain, “esta noche no es para dormir, esta noche es para celebrar.” (Tonight isn’t for sleeping, tonight is for celebrating.)
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