By Elvis s.x
Actually, Simbang Gabi is a devotional nine-day novena of Masses practiced by Roman Catholics in the Philippines in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in anticipation of Christmas and as a way of commemorating the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem. Simbang Gabi, which translates “Night Mass” is in reality “Dawn Mass” and is held from December 16 to December 24 and is usually done as early as 3 or 4:30 am. The every day mass of Simbang Gabi, included the Christmas Eve, is called Misa de Gallo, which literally translates to “Rooster’s Mass.” (Cf. Wikipedia/ Simbang Gabi)
Historically, Simbang Gabi originated in the early days of Spanish rule in the Philippines. It has its roots in the Mexican world since the first missionaries to the Philippines came from Mexico. The custom was introduced in the Philippines in the 17th century and matched quite well with the custom of Filipino farmers and fishermen who used to wake up early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Wisely, the missionaries realized that the best time to gather people for the devotion to Mary in the nine days leading to Christmas was early in the morning.
Being my second Simbang Gabi in the Philippines, I am always profoundly touched by the depth of devotion of the Filipinos. People from different ages and every walk of life sacrifice their quiet sleeping hours and rush early in the morning to the Church. No matter how heavy it is, you find joy on their faces and one can realize that it is something they are doing out of conviction and love. I do believe that Filipinos should be very proud of their Simbang Gabi alongside with other devotions (Black Nazarene, Sto. Nino,…)
Century after century, Filipinos have carried out this Christmas tradition wherever they go. In different places of the world where there is a considerable number of Filipinos, they ask for the priests of the place to help them keep up their Christmas tradition by celebrating those nine Dawn Masses.
Simbang Gabi has become a much cherished Christmas custom and it is one of the distinct features of Philippine culture. For a Filipino, to celebrate Simbang Gabi as preparation to the coming of the Lord means also sharing. That is why this period of the year is also a time for gift giving. From the Christmas parties organized at any level of the society to the simple distribution of gifts, Filipinos try to share what they have and they do it wholeheartedly. Another feature of this period are the Christmas decorations. Even if it began almost 2 months earlier, the decoration of houses, churches, streets is intensified during Simbang Gabi.
Apart from Christmas trees, garlands, there is another famous ornamental star, the so-called “parol” which is a star-shaped Christmas ornamental lantern. Its significance rivals that of the Christmas tree in this side of the world. It evokes the star of Bethlehem in the narratives found in the Gospel of Matthew. As Filipino Catholics rise before dawn for Simbang Gabi masses, the bright and dazzling “parols” along the streets illuminate Churchgoers on their way to worship.
Just as a star was said to have risen to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Christians are called to shine forth like stars in the world – signs and pointers of hope and salvation in Christ. This is my wish to everyone who is undergoing the preparation to celebrate the coming of the Lord, the birth of Jesus Christ, through Simbang Gabi!
Mabuhay ang Simbang Gabi!
1. Wikipedia / Simbang Gabi
2. Living with Christ, Simbang Gabi 2012