Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, traces back to Spanish colonization and the spread of Catholicism in the Philippines and Latin America until the late 17th century, Matthew A. Nicdao, a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, said in a phone interview.
Catholicism remains a dominant influence in both places. Roughly 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholic, according to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center. Although there’s been a reported decline in Catholicism in Latin America, cultural celebrations still revolve around Catholic holidays, said Djali Brown-Cepeda, the founder and curator of Nuevayorkinos, a digital archival project documenting New York City Latino and Caribbean culture and history.
Generally speaking, Noche Buena involves a late dinner hosted on the 24th of December that spills into early Christmas Day. Some families, like mine, serve the feast at midnight, but dinner is often eaten around 10 p.m. to make time for Midnight Mass (Misa de Gallo in Spanish, or Simbang Gabi in Tagalog). Gifts are usually handed out after everyone eats, either before mass or in lieu of it.