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Simbang Gabi tradition keeps expanding – up to 40 parishes participating this year
December 8th, 2010
By Valerie Schmalz

The “rising Advent juggernaut” of Simbang Gabi, a nine day novena of Masses leading up to Christmas, will be celebrated by 40 parishes in the Archdiocese of San Francisco this Advent. Each Simbang Gabi celebration features the parol, a star-shaped lantern that symbolizes the Christmas star.

The tradition of an early morning Mass followed by refreshments originated in the Philippines with the Spanish missionaries in the 17th century but today the Filipino people are bringing the tradition to their non-Filipino neighbors and parishioners in the United States, said Nellie Hizon, one of the strongest proponents of the tradition in the Bay Area. In the Archdiocese this year, 40 parishes have signed on to the Advent novena, she said. That is up from the 16 parishes who were involved in 2006, Hizon said. For this year’s schedule see

“The fact that people are drawn to a nine-day Eucharistic celebration to prepare for Christmas is a wonderful thing,” Hizon said. The tradition of coffee and pastries after every Mass, often supplemented by plates and plates of Filipino foods, is part of the Asian nation’s tradition of hospitality, Hizon said.

On the Peninsula, a number of parishes take turns hosting the Masses and accompanying refreshments. This year in southern San Mateo County, Simbang Gabi will be held at St. Gregory Church but priests from the area’s church group, Deanery 10, will take turns celebrating Mass. The year before the parishes’ participants went to St. Timothy’s, she said. The same is the case in the Sunset district of San Francisco, where this year St. Gabriel Church will host Simbang Gabi for several churches, including Hizon’s parish of St. Stephen. Parishes with larger Filipino congregations, including St. Patrick, St. Augustine, St. Andrew, Holy Name of Jesus and St. Anne of the Sunset, host their own novenas, she said.

In Marin County, St. Isabella is celebrating a triduum for Simbang Gabi and inviting Catholics from parishes throughout Marin.

Simbang Gabi means “Dawn Mass” but has evolved to both early morning and evening novenas in the U.S. The dawn tradition was so farmers could participate before going to the fields and fishermen could come after they brought in their catch, Hizon said.

Rocco Palmo, a respected Church watcher and blogger at Whispers in the Loggia, calls Simbang Gabi “stateside Catholicism’s rising Advent juggernaut,” noting that last year in Los Angeles about 100 parishes participated and in Chicago, 70 parishes celebrated the Filipino tradition.

From December 10, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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