With centuries of Roman Catholic influences, Christmas in the Philippines won’t be complete without attending Simbang Gabi (dawn mass) or Misa de Gallo (Christmas Eve mass). Going to mass in a historical church further heightens the season. Add to this the nippy December air, the scent of bibingka, and the multicolored lights, and you’ll really feel the Pinoy Christmas spirit. Here are some of the beautiful churches you can visit to experience this Filipino tradition.
Manila Cathedral (The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)
One of Manila’s grandest churches has undergone eight reconstructions in its 446 years, and the latest renovation of 2014 doesn’t disappoint: ornate vaults tower over decorated colonnades in a fully air-conditioned interior. Once the organ in the choir loft plays at mass, you’ll really get into the Christmas mood.
While you’re there, visit the ongoing exhibit “Manila Cathedral: A Legacy of Architecture and Faith,” which shows the cathedral’s entire history from 1571 to its post-war reincarnation by Arch. Fernando Ocampo.
Sto. Tomas St., Intramuros, Manila
San Sebastian Church (Basilica Menor de San Sebastian)
All steel parts of this Gothic-revival beauty were pre-fabricated in Belgium and shipped to Manila in 1892, where it was painstakingly assembled over two years. By day, dappled sun plays on the trompe l’oeil vaulted ceiling, and by night, the exterior lighting casts dramatic shadows, making it look like you are in Europe. The San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation holds occasional tours to raise awareness about the church.
Pasaje del Carmen St., Quiapo, Manila
Quiapo Church (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene)
The church is known for the traslacion in February, which draws massive crowds of devotees to the Black Nazarene. But Christmas is an adventurous time as well, as parishioners spill out from early morning mass to Christmas-shop at the stalls and the markets in and around Plaza Miranda.
Quezon Blvd., Quiapo, Manila
Basilica Menor del Santo Niño de Cebu
The Basilica is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the country, dating to 1565, which is no surprise as the Santo Niño it houses was the same one that was presented to Ferdinand Magellan by the Legaspi-Urdaneta expedition. At night and during Simbang Gabi, the entire exterior is decorated with lights, outlining the church’s original Baroque structure from the 1700s.
Osmeña Blvd., Cebu City
St. Mary Magdalene Church of Kawit
This Cavite church from 1737 is noted for being the church where General Emilio Aguinaldo was baptized, and where his birth certificate is kept beside the altar. With its proximity to Aguinaldo’s house, it was also rumored that one of his escape tunnels once led to this church. These days, St. Mary Magdalene is its most exuberant at Christmas, when its brick Baroque structure is lit up with multicolored lights, and the church grounds are filled with a merry mix of puto bumbong, suman, and bibingka vendors.
Tanggulan St., Kawit, Cavite
Naic Church (Diocesan Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)
The municipality’s main church was constructed in 1835, and has a distinct Gothic-revival appearance, as seen in its pointed arches and windows. It is a very long church—stretching ten blocks.
Its most recent addition is the intricate, classical-style mosaic floor along the central nave. It is composed of millions of triangular marble mosaic by Kaufman Stone using local craftsmen under architect Noel Gatus.
Poblacion, Capt. Ciriaco Nazareno St., Naic, Cavite
This story originally appeared on Realliving.com.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.