TODAY, DEC. 16 is the start of Simbang Gabi, that Filipino tradition (actually Catholic tradition) of holding nine consecutive masses or novenas during the nine days ending in Christmas.
The practice is clearly a legacy from the Spanish colonial regime, when both the Spanish King and the Pope from the Vatican ruled the country, through their surrogates, the gobernadorcillo and the friars.
Filipinos take great pride in having the longest Christmas season in the world, starting with the nine dawn masses of Dec. 16-24 and ending on Jan. 6, the feast of the Three Kings. The highlight of this celebration is the Christmas Eve mass, called Misa de Aguinaldo, as contrasted to the dawn masses called Misa de Gallo, in reference to the crowing of the rooster at dawn or before dawn.
This year’s start of the dawn masses is special because Pope Francis himself will celebrate the mass at the Vatican, of course with a number of Filipinos in Rome attending. It is sort of an affirmation that the Vatican is giving support and recognition to this enduring Filipino Yuletide tradition.
Catholic leaders like to cite that Filipinos who are completing the nine-day masses leave their homes while it is still dark. The priests say God will look after these Pinoy parishioners and will not let bad things happen to them in the dark. So Filipinos who continue to practice this tradition of Simbang Gabi put their trust in God this way.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said “the best gift we can ever receive is the Holy Spirit who brings us peace and new life.”
Villegas continued: “In every novena, we beg God for a wish in our hearts …. But the best gifts are not food or gadgets or jewelries. None can equal the Holy Spirit as gift for Christmas.”
“Darkness always goes with the Simbang Gabi tradition,” explained Villegas. “We walk in the dark trusting that God is our light. Only those courageous to walk through the dark will be able to see the beauty of the stars and the moon.”
With the wave of Catholicism sweeping the nation, it will be long before Filipinos drop the tradition of Simbang Gabi over more modernized celebration of Christmas.