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Simbang Gabi helps families keep traditions from their homeland

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Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria, opened the diocesan Simbang Gabi celebration with Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna Dec. 15. Mass was concelebrated by Oblate Father John Dolan, Oblate Father William J. Metzger and Missionhurst Father Celso Tabalanza.

Before Mass began, the Leech family carried traditional offerings to the altar, including rice, flowers, fruits and a parol, or Christmas lantern.

"Even though I'm second-generation Filipino, I would like my children to grow up in the Filipino tradition," said Cielo Leech. "We have a mixed marriage and I would like them also to be aware of my heritage and customs."

Her husband, Brent, said it means a lot to their children to participate in his wife's culture. "This is a nice way to make sure they understand they come from more than one place," he said.

Leah Roa, a member of the Filipino community at Our Lady of Good Counsel, said Simbang Gabi is a good way to get families together. “Communities around the United States are sharing the faith tradition,” she said. “A lot of families don't want to lose the traditions from back home especially for the children to learn about Filipino faith traditions.”

During his homily, Father Ferguson highlighted the significance of each item that is brought forth in a Mass. The parol is a star that symbolizes the one that led the Magi to Christ. The rice symbolizes the Filipinos faith, family and church community; fruits symbolize good harvest; and flowers represent joy and appreciation for the life of Jesus.

The music was in Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines, and provided by Serenata, the Fil/Am Community Music Ministry. Marialena Faria led the music.  

The salu-salo, a reception following Mass, included several traditional foods, including lumpia, a type of spring roll; pancit, a noodle dish; rice; fish and other meats.

When everyone finished eating, the children of the Filipino-American community put on a play — the panuluyan, similar to the Mexican posadas tradition that depicts Mary and Joseph searching for room at an inn. Youths took on the roles of Mary and Joseph, St. Luke, innkeepers, shepherds and others. The panuluyan traditionally takes place on Christmas in the Philippines.

Simbang Gabi has been around since the 16th century when Spanish friars introduced the nine-day novena to the Philippines. The novena prepares for the birth of Christ. More than 35 Masses will be celebrated throughout the diocese in the mornings and evenings.

Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde is scheduled to celebrate Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church Dec. 19.

The novena concludes with Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington Dec. 24 at 5 a.m.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018