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“Simbang Gabi” in Blacktown revisits popular Filipino Christmas tradition

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Simbang Gabi – acolyte Obet Dionisio,  Fr Reginald Lavilla, 3nd from left; Tony Agius, 2nd from right and other members of the support team

By Obet Dionisio and Bayanihan News – Philippine  Christmas evening mass called Simbang Gabi which had its roots in Mexico’s Misa de Gallo were  held  in some  Catholic churches in Blacktown area  last  December 16 to December 24  Christmas eve, highlighting   popular Philippine Christmas tradition among  Filipino residents in Sydney.

The Simbang Gabi  were held in particular  for Catholic adherents in the suburbs of  Quakers Hill, Marayong, Glenwood, Glendenning and other suburbs.

Some young constituents who never lived in the Philippines were able to capture the ambience of the popular Filipino religious Christmas tradition held at the Mary Immaculate Church  in Quakers Hill.

At the Quakers Hill church, parish priest Fr. Ruben Elago and assistant parish priest Fr. Reginald Lavilla officiated the nighly masses from December 16 to December 24.

There were other Simbang Gabi masses held in churches around   Blacktown areas, specifically  at St Michael church in South Blacktown, at St Aidans church in Rooty Hill and  at St John the 23rd Church in Stanhope.

In his homily during one Simbang Gabi in Quakers Hill, Fr Ruben Elagu  said that the roosters crow was the call for the people  to wake up from  their slumber noting that there was no alarm clock during those times.  It was also accepted for households to leave the door and the windows open when they leave the house, with the belief that the blessings emanating from the church can go inside their houses.

He said it was  a wake up call for everyone’s spiritual upliftment by sacrificing to get up early and go to mass.  The opening of the doors and windows is a beacon for us to open our hearts to the blessings of our God.  And the sharing of the farmer’s produce is the deed we should follow in sharing our blessings with those who are less fortunate in life and in need of help.

The  Nine-Day Novena Mass prior to Christmas is part of the Roman Catholic Calendar, which is normally celebrated in the morning. In certain countries, like the Philippines and some former Spanish Colonies, the novena masses are being held at dawn, hence the title Nine-Day Dawn Masses.

In the Philippines, however, the early dawn mass  had transitioned through the years into the evening mass or  Simbang  Gabi, also known by the other names as Misa de Gallo, or Misa de Aguinaldo.

The Dawn Masses was first introduced by Fr. Diego de Soria in Mexico in 1587, to afford the farmers to go to the mass before going to the fields to work. This is done by the farmers to seek grace for a good crop. As soon as the cocks crow, the farmers wake up, hence the term Misa de Gallo.

Since it was early morning, the farmers were bringing their breakfast, eating them after the mass before going to work, and sharing their food with those attending the mass. The farmers  also bring  fruits of their harvest from the previous season, so the term Misa de Aguinaldo was also used, Aguinaldo” being the Spanish word for gift-giving.

In many instances as in cultural tableu or in Filipino rural movie scenes or in Filipino artist Larry Alcala’s cartoons,  the Simbang Gabi was much used to project Filipino cultural activities in celebrating Christmas.  By Obet Dionisio and Bayanihan News.