Simbang Gabi, A Filipino tradition

Parol adorned Holy Infant Church in North Carolina. Image © https://holyinfantchurch.org

LOS Angeles, California—Simbang Gabi is a beloved Christmas tradition for Filipino Catholics that features a devotional novena of nine Masses leading to Christmas Day in expectancy of the Nativity and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the Philippines, the Eucharistic Celebrations of Simbang Gabi are usually held in the early hours of the morning but in Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; and Los Angeles they are celebrated in the evening to allow more people to attend. The Simbang Gabi tradition is a clear expression of Filipino spirituality and the official beginning of the Advent season.

Simbang Gabi starts on 16th December and last until Christmas although the Filipino yuletide celebrations continue to January 6, the traditional date of the Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings.

Latin Roots

Simbang Gabi traces its roots in Mexico when, in 1587, the Pope granted the petition of Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the convent of San Agustin Acolman, to hold Christmas mass outdoors because the Church could not accommodate the huge number of people attending the evening mass.

Pope Sixtus V, for his part, gave Augustinians in the Americas permission to celebrate the Misa de Gallo on the nine days leading up to Christmas.

Spanish Roman Catholic preachers, who traveled from the New World across the Pacific to the Philippines continued the tradition of celebrating nine days of Misa de Gallo also known as Aguinaldo Mass and found it a good way to spread the faith to the people.

The faithful is expected to make every effort to attend early morning Mass for nine days prior to Christmas day in preparation to receiving God’s greatest gift or “aguinaldo” that is “Jesus, the Savior of the World.”

Moreover, the tradition also became an expression of the deep devotion of Filipinos to Mary, Mother of God. It is also the way of the people to join and accompany Mary as she awaits the birth of her son thus the Masses celebrated on those nine days are also solemnly offered in her honor.

What might an attendee experience

Part of the experience of attending a Simbang Gabi is one’s immersion in colorful lights coming from native Filipino lanterns called Parol, which fill the streets. Beautiful Parol are hung in every window while songs of the season fill the air.

Noche Buena

At Christmas Eve evening, after the last Simbang Gabi‘, traditional Filipino families share a midnight feast called “Noche Buena.”

The Noche Buena is a big, open house celebration with family, friends and neighbors dropping by to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Families from all walks of life gather in their homes to celebrate Noche Buena and feast on various delicacies like lechon (roasted pig), queso de bola (or Edam Cheese), bibingka (rice cakes), puto bungbong (purple sticky rice), or a drink of salabat (ginger tea), or hot chocolate.

Locations

In Texas, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, where it an extremely active Filipino Catholic community, nearly 30 parishes from Conroe to Nassau Bay offer Simbang Gabi which leads up to an archdiocesan Mass on the last night of the novena.

Here are some locations around the Houston metroplex where you can experience Simbang Gabi:

1. Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church, 11507 Huffmeister Road, Houston, Texas 77065

2. Prince of Peace Catholic Community, 19222 Tomball Pkwy, Houston, TX 77070

3. First Filipino American United Methodist Church, 8603 S Kirkwood Rd., Houston TX 77099

Share the Tradition

Sharing this tradition with the young Filipinos and non-Filipinos is wonderful for it helps them understand the true meaning of Christmas for Filipinos. Simbang Gabi is among the many Filipino was they could experience spirituality and the holiness of the Advent Season.

Merry Christmas Y’all!, Maligayang Pasko, Malipayon nga Pascua, Maayong Pasko, Maugmang Pasko, Maabig ya pasko, Magayagan inkianac, Maupay Nga Pasko.

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