Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas in the world. By midnight of the first day of September, strains of Christmas carols are playing on radio airwaves, and the festive air intensifies as people prepare to celebrate Advent and then Christmas with joy and warmth.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and other parts of the world, Simbang Gabi is a tradition that manifests the Filipino spirituality of festively celebrating the birth of Christ through liturgy, Christmas carols, Parols, native delicacies and reunion of families and friends, integrated in the nine days of liturgical celebration.

Traditionally, Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by the nine-day novena of Masses that starts on Dec. 16 and culminates on Dec. 24 with the much anticipated family event, “Noche Buena,” the Christmas feast right after Midnight Mass.

Simbang Gabi traces its roots in Mexico. As the early Spanish explorers and missionaries traveled to the New World and across the Pacific, they brought with them the religious practice of “Aguinaldo Masses.” The faithful make every effort for nine days to attend Mass in the early morning as preparation to receive from God the greatest gift (or Aguinaldo) of Christmas: Jesus, the Savior of the world. 

Above all, Simbang Gabi is an expression of our deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of God.  For nine days, the faithful join and accompany her, as she awaits the birth of her son. For this reason, the Masses on those days are celebrated as solemn votive Masses in her honor.

This year, the Filipino Ministry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, under the leadership of Father Albert H. Avenido, will celebrate the start of Simbang Gabi with Mass on Dec. 15, 6:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels with the theme: “Jesus, Our Light, Ignite Our Hearts to Evangelize”/“Hesus, Aming Liwanag, Pag-alabin Mo ang Aming Puso na Maipahayag Ka.” Archbishop José H. Gomez will preside at this Simbang Gabi 2011 celebration, coordinated by Filipino parish leaders from the San Fernando Pastoral Region headed by Patty Santiago, and chaired by Raymond de Guzman of Our Lady of Peace Church, North Hills. 

As part of our Simbang Gabi tradition in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Parols of different parishes celebrating Simbang Gabi will be processed as part of the pre-liturgy and will be blessed by Archbishop Gomez before they are sent to parishes to officially begin Simbang Gabi in the entire Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The procession also includes Parols of Filipino religious organizations, civic and professional organizations and government offices. 

The Filipino Ministry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles extends its invitation to every family and organization to participate in this Filipino Catholic tradition. For more information, contact Joe Arciaga, publicity and media chair, (818) 457-8408 or [email protected].

Jo Solomon is director of the Catholic Junior High School Academic Decathlon and a parishioner of Holy Name of Mary Church, San Dimas.

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