Simbang Gabi: A prelude to Christmas Day


As I See It


Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) signals the cleansing process for Christians as they prepare themselves towards celebrating Christmas Eve. The nine-day series of masses give parishioners the time to know themselves, reflect on what they have done to their families and others, and what they will be doing as a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is a tradition worldwide! It is the time for people to rejoice, have fun, bond together, reunite, and enjoy each other’s company. Of course, this is the time for us to renew our relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord with activities like Simbang Gabi, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve.

While others say it is the most expensive time of the year with all the gifts under the tree not only for our family members but for relatives, godchildren (inaanak) and friends (BFFs), there are ways to celebrate it the frugal way… and still retaining the Christmas spirit.

Instead of buying expensive gifts, for example, buy things that are cheap and useful the whole year round. After all, it is the giving that matters… and receiving is just a gesture of thankfulness.

The joy of giving should be the prevailing spirit this time of the year. And, instead of lavish parties or get-togethers, do potlucks and serve inexpensive low-carb food.

Simbang Gabi, which is one of the special features of Christmas, is starting this Wednesday, December 15, 2016 at the Holy Cross Church in Jackson St., San Jose and in all Roman Catholic and Aglipayan churches all over the world. This is the traditional “Night Mass” known as Simbang Gabi. Simbang Gabi is a devotional nine-day series of masses in anticipation of Christmas and to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The masses are held daily from December 15 – 23 or December 16–24, and occur at different times depending upon the church celebrating it. On the last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the service is instead called Misa de Gallo (Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass).

The Simbang Gabi originated, according to Wikipedia, “in the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines as a practical compromise for farmers, who began work before sunrise to avoid the noonday heat out in the fields. It began in 1969. Priests began to say Mass in the early mornings instead of the evening novenas more common in the rest of the Hispanic world. This cherished Christmas custom eventually became a distinct feature of Philippine culture”.

At that time, the Philippines is an agricultural country known for its rice, coconut and sugarcane plantations. Religious historians say, “Many tenant farmers (also known as sacadas, campesinos, and casamac) toiled all day with one break during noon when the heat would be at its peak. Losing an hour due to the unbearable temperatures, farmers worked hard and budgeted their time out of fear of the local encargado, who administered land for the Spanish feudal lord or encomendero/hacendero”.

When the Christmas season would begin, it was customary to hold novenas in the evenings, but the priests saw that the people would attend despite the day’s fatigue. As a compromise, the clergy began to say Masses in the early morning while it was still dark before people went out to work the land.

During the Spanish Era and early American Period, the parishioners would mostly have nothing to offer during Mass except sacks of rice, fruits and vegetables and fresh eggs.

These were graciously accepted by the priests, who besides keeping a portion for themselves, would share the produce with the congregation after the service. It’s the spirit of giving that matters, not the expensive items people are giving to friends and loved ones.

Today, local delicacies are readily available in the church’s premises for the parishioners. We have the traditional puto bumbong, bibingka, suman and other rice pastries which were cooked on the spot. Latik and yema are sweets sold to children, while biscuits like uraro (arrowroot), barquillos, lengua de gato, and otap (ladyfingers) are also available. Kape barako, a very strong coffee grown in the province of Batangas, hot tsokolate, or salabat (an infusion or ginger) are the main drinks, while soups such as arroz caldo (rice and chicken porridge) and papait (goat bile stew from the Ilocos region) are also found.

Wikipedia further say, “The rice-based foods were traditionally served to fill the stomachs of the farmers, since rice is a cheap and primary staple. The pastries were full of carbohydrates needed by colonial Filipinos for the back-breaking work they were subjected to in the rice paddies and sugar mills”.

Simbang Gabi today, Filipinos still celebrate this Mass with great solemnity where the priest wears white and Gloria is sung. Simbang Gabi is also celebrated in malls because of the strong devotion of the Filipinos but recently, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle discouraged celebrating mass at malls except if malls have their own chapel.

The simbang gabi in the Holy Cross Church will be the first after FilAm assistant priest Fr. Abner Ablis was assigned to the Hispanic-dominated church, according to FilAm Community President Ruben Rigocera. The simbang gabi masses will be officiated by Fr. Abner principally for FilAms to reconnect among themselves and other parishioners. This will give us a sense of belonging and a pride to boost our rich culture at this time of the year.

Let us accept the fact that we, if not all, are workaholic! No doubt about that! We need to work to provide for the family. We need to work to pay for our bills. We need to work to sustain our daily needs. And most of all, we need to work to survive in this competitive world!

What we forget, however, is we also need to work for the salvation of our soul and seek the guidance of the Lord! Most of us forget that people get their strength in God. That we should not forget to provide food for our body and soul! We need healing! We need to pray! We need the mercy of God! And… attending Simbang Gabi is definitely one episode of our life, although how busy we are, that will feed our soul and live a contented and happy life.
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