by Myrna Aquitania
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, was filled to capacity last Sunday, December 15th when approximately 3,000 Catholic devotees flocked the Cathedral to attend this year’s celebration of “Simbang Gabi” and the 11th annual Parade of Parols, (star lanterns).
The Most Reverend Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles was the principal celebrant, with the assistance of three auxiliary bishops and nine other clerics. This year’s celebration was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Filipino Ministry of the San Pedro Region.
In his homily, the Rev. Gomez thanked all of us who came and flocked the Cathedral. He encouraged everyone to thank God and share our love with other people who are in distress, particularly those back home whose loved ones were lost during the typhoon.
The large array of colorful Parade of Parols was most significant this year, due to the participation of the Philippine Consulate who led the parade in a meaningful parol which had the Philippine flag colors and symbols.
In the Philippines, “Simbang Gabi” (Night Mass), commemorates a nine-day series of Masses (from December 16 through the 24th), practiced by Catholics “ in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in anticipation of Christmas.” As I recall, It was usually done at dawn around 5 o’clock in the morning and on the last day which is Christmas Eve it is then called “Misa De Gallo” which signifies the birth of Jesus.
History has it that “Simbang Gabi” originated in the early days of Spanish rule when farmers started their day before sunrise to hear Mass offered by Priests in the early mornings before these farmers go to work and toil in the fields. During Mass, these farmers would have nothing to offer except fruits, vegetables and fresh eggs from their farms, which was graciously accepted by the priests, who then shared them with the rest of the parishioners, though they also kept a portion for themselves. This symbol of sharing then became part of Philippine tradition and culture during the Christmas season..
In my childhood days, it was a must that we all attend the “Simbang Gabi” on Christmas Eve. After Mass, all children will kiss the hand of the elders or “pagmamano,” and we would gather with other parishioners around the Church grounds, to buy various delicacies such as “puto bumbong,” “bibingka,” or “suman latik,” We would then bring these delicacies in our home to eat them as desserts along with “tsokolate” or hot chocolate, after the “noche buena” food which includes hot “arroz caldo,:(rice and chicken porridge), “papait” (goat stew) Spanish sweet ham and “queso de bola” ( Spanish ball of cheese.”After our “noche buena,” our family would then gather around the Christmas tree and as children, this was the most exciting time when we would receive and open our “aguinaldos” or gifts given by our loved ones and our godparents.
The following day, Christmas Day, we would go to our godparents’ homes to pay our respect with “pagmamano” or kissing their hands and receive money and “aguinaldo” (gifts) from them. .
Indeed, “Simbang Gabi” is most significant to all of us Pinoys because it symbolizes a family gathering where we share our love and respect with our loved ones.
Wishing all of you good health and abundant blessings this Christmas as well as peace, love and prosperity for the New Year!