In the nine days before Christmas, millions of people of all ages go to church before going to work. It is an important time to prepare joyfully to celebrate the Nativity with the family. Even Filipinos working abroad are faithful to the tradition.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The traditional “Simbang Gabi” started on 16 December, with millions of Filipinos across the country defying crisp winds to go to church in the early morning for a novena that brings Advent to a close.
The novena is a lead-up to the nativity of Christ and expresses the belief that God became man in Jesus, died and resurrected. It is also known as “Misa de Gallo” (Mass of the Cockerel) or “Misa de Aguinaldo” (Gift Mass), because it takes place at crack of dawn and confirms the strong Catholic faith of the Philippines: it is a “sacrifice of love” for it requires dedication to wake up so early on working days.
Fr Victor S. Salanga, a Jesuit priest, told AsiaNews: “Novena masses are celebrated at dawn or the night before and Filipinos willingly attend them to prepare for the gift of the birth of Jesus.”
Jasica De Cruz, 24 years, is an employee at the Presidential Palace in Manila. She said: “It is our immediate spiritual preparation for the birth of our saviour, God's greatest gift to humankind. The pealing of the bells calling us to Mass, the lanterns lighting our way, the carols heard everywhere we go: all these remind us that Christmas is almost here.” The Manila archdiocese said Simbang Gabi is “a significant moment because it strengthens family ties and because our faith is strengthened. It is the time when the faithful mostly feel the presence of the Lord because it is the spiritual preparation for Christmas, the birth of Christ.”
Simbang Gabi marks the beginning of a joyful season of age-old holiday traditions celebrated with the family. The tradition dates back to 1565 when the Spanish conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, celebrated the first Feast of the Nativity in the country. The dawn novena originated in Mexico when in 1587, Br Diego de Soria, prior of the Convent of San Augustine Acolman, asked permission from the Pope to hold Christmas masses for farmers who had to wake up early to go to work.
This year, the churches of Manila are packed for the dawn mass, as young and old gather to pray to God with joy and enthusiasm. Many say they get up at to be among the first in church and to avoid early morning traffic chaos.
For 7.3 million overseas Filipino workers, Simbang Gabi ranks among the primary reasons to come home for Christmas. Those who cannot go home try to keep up the tradition in the places where they work. In Dubai, the novena is held at St Mary’s Church. The parish priest Nen Bunag said around 4,000 Filipinos take part every night. The novena started a day early here, from 15 to 23 December, because the “church is very busy preparing for the celebrations of 24 and 25 December.”