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‘Simbang Gabi’ unique Philippine tradition

tempo editorial dec162013

The traditional nine-day novena of dawn Masses, popularly called Simbang Gabi, starting December 16, ushers in the much-awaited Christmas season in the Philippines. Catholic Filipinos flock to their churches for dawn masses or the anticipated masses the previous night. The country is know for celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season, which begins on December 16 and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday after New Year’s Day.

Church bells ring for dawn masses at 4 a.m., while anticipated masses in mostly urban parishes begin the previous evening at 9 p.m. to accommodate people on work schedules. In some communities in the provinces, a band goes around playing Christmas songs to invite people. After the mass, families partake of native delicacies such as bibingka, puto bumbong, and palitaw (rice cakes) that they down with steaming cups of salabat (ginger drink), chocolate, tea, or coffee.

The simbang gabi tradition is also observed in many parts of the world where there are large concentration of Filipinos. Communities there decorate chapels and homes, prepare food for get-together, and exchange gifts. No matter how or where it is taking place, simbang gabi is an enduring symbol of the Filipinos’ deep religiosity.

The beginning of dawn masses is traced to 1587, prior of San Agustin Acolman convent in Mexico, petitioned the Pope to allow the holding of Christmas mass outdoors to accommodate the church crowd. In the 17th Century, Spanish Conquistadores introduced the dawn masses in the Philippines. T he masses were held at dawn as it was the most convenient for rural folk who had to plow the fields or catch fish before the sun came out. The custom spread and parts of the Philippines culture and tradition.

The Manila Bulletin, led by its Chairman of the Board of Directors Dr. Emilio T. Yap, President and Publisher Atty. Hermogenes P. Pobre, Executive Vice President Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Cris J. Icban Jr., Business Editor Loreto D. Cabañes, Officers and Employees, Congratulate the Filipinos for preserving the cherished tradition and practices during Christmas time that make it a distinct celebration, allowing the faithful to spiritually prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ. May God bless us all!

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