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9-day Simbang Gabi starts today

Bebot Sison Jr. - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Starting today, the faithful in this predominantly Catholic nation will flock to churches before dawn, bundled up against the chilly winds of December.

The Simbang Gabi, a nine-day series of pre-dawn masses from Dec. 16 to 24, heralds the Christmas season in the country.

Among Filipino Christmas traditions, the Simbang Gabi has for centuries sent the faithful throughout the country to churches to affirm their faith.

This tradition dates back to 1587 in Mexico when the pope granted the petition of Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the convent of San Agustin Acolman, to hold Christmas mass outdoors to accommodate the huge number of people that overflowed from the church during the evening mass.

At that time Christmas masses were held early in the morning to symbolize the actual time of the birth of Jesus Christ, but it was eventually adjusted to pre-dawn hours for the convenience of churchgoers.

Simbang Gabi was introduced in the Philippines by the Spanish conquistadores in the 17th century.

The pre-dawn masses were introduced to teach the people the meaning of Christmas and how to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, and also used to catechize the people on the meaning of the mass.

Simbang Gabi is signaled by the ringing of church bells. As churchgoers make their way in the dark, they are guided by the lights coming from the flickering candles in the star-shaped parols, or Christmas lanterns, that adorn the homes on the way to church.

In some rural areas, brass bands play Christmas music all over town an hour before the mass to wake the people and enjoin the faithful to go to church.

In earlier times, parish priests would knock on doors to wake and gather the faithful to attend the Simbang Gabi.

This practice was convenient for farmers and fishermen, as they had time to hear the Gospel and ask for the grace of a good harvest before going to the farm or out to sea.

Simbang Gabi continues to be the bedrock of Christmas celebrations despite the changes that now pervade Filipino Christmas traditions.

While colorful Christmas lights have replaced the traditional parol hung in front of windows and Filipino songs have been replaced by Western carols, Simbang Gabi remains what it has been centuries ago.

Filipino families always find time to attend the nine-day Simbang Gabi, after which they enjoy traditional delicacies like bibingka and puto bungbong sold in stalls in the church courtyard. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe

 

AMONG FILIPINO CHRISTMAS

CHRISTMAS

FILIPINO CHRISTMAS

FRAY DIEGO

GABI

JESUS CHRIST

SAN AGUSTIN ACOLMAN

SIMBANG

SIMBANG GABI

SORIA

WITH CECILLE SUERTE FELIPE

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