b Filipino Advent Tradition: 'Simbang Gabi' -b

The Filipino-American Catholic community prepares for Christmas with a nine-day novena of Masses called Simbang Gabi, which translates into "going to church in the evening." The practice began in 1587, when Fray Diego Soria, prior of the convent of San Agustin Acolman, petitioned the pope for permission to celebrate Christmas Masses outdoors because the church could not handle the large numbers of people in attendance. Later, missionaries brought the celebration to the Philippines as a means of evangelization by gathering Filipinos, who were farmers or fishermen, in the early morning hours to hear the Gospel, learn about Christianity and ensure the preservation of the Catholic Faith. In the Philippines today, it is not unusual to see individuals or entire families walking or riding their cars to the nearest church to begin the celebration of the novena Masses at 5 a.m. The tradition continues with a variety of Filipino delicacies displayed in the churchyard for everyone’s pleasure, and lighted star lanterns fashioned out of bamboo and paper, called parol, hanging from windows and decorating the streets by the church. On the ninth day of novena Masses, the celebration culminates on Christmas Eve with a midnight Mass, known as Misa de Galla. Afterward, Filipino families gather in their homes and celebrate a Christmas feast called Nochebuena, or good night. This is when Filipino families come together and have a chance to ask for forgiveness, or to give pardon for things gone array in family disputes. The children receive their aguinaldo, meaning gift, usually cash, while the siblings, guests and parents share a traditional meal that includes queso de bola, a special cheese ball delicacy, a ham, castanas, and luscious desserts, such as puto bombong, a sugary rice with coconut, or bibingka, followed by salabat, or ginger tea. The Filipino immigrants in the U.S., who ranked the highest between Asian and Pacific Catholic population with 1.5 million according to USCCB statistics, have introduced Simbang Gabi in several areas of the country. "Simbang Gabi has been taken up by many U.S. pastors, even in parishes where there are few Filipinos, because they see the significance of celebrating Christmas as a faith experience as a healthy antidote to the prevailing materialism of current practice," said Teresita Nuval, Asian/Pacific Ministries Diocesan director. In areas where the cold December weather makes it impractical to hold the celebration at dawn or perhaps with the hurriedness of the early morning hours during the workweek, local parishes have the celebration at night. In the Arlington Diocese, Simbang Gabi is held both in the early dawn hours and the early evening hours. At St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, the Filipino-American community has held the early dawn Masses for the past few years from Dec. 16-24. The Filipino community has also gathered in the evenings at different diocesan parishes. For more information go to www.filipinoministry.catholicweb.com. Ed Tiong contributed to this report. 

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2002