Simbang Gabi is a Filipino tradition


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Growing up in the Philippines, Father Joseph Sia would wake up before sunrise to celebrate Simbang Gabi. Despite the struggle of getting out of bed and arriving at church in time, “the tradition helped me to deepen my understanding of the mystery of the Nativity.”

Simbang Gabi is a Filipino Advent celebration consisting of a nine-day series of early morning Masses to prepare for the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa is adapting the tradition with a Mass and reception Dec. 16. While the 11 a.m. Mass won’t require guests to wake up before dawn, Father Sia, the parish’s pastor, hopes it will enhance their Advent experience.

Father Sia is also pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Ottumwa and St. Mary  Magdalen Parish in Bloomfield. He estimates about 25 households with Filipino roots live in the area. “A good number go to Mass regularly,” he observes. Filipinos in surrounding communities — including Fairfield, Albia and Oskaloosa — plan to travel to Ottumwa for Simbang Gabi.


Local Filipinos will sing songs in Tagalog during the bilingual Mass and will pray the Prayers of the Faithful in different local dialects. A reception will follow with “lots of delicious Filipino food and desserts,” Father Sia said.

Some Filipinos who plan to attend are not Catholic but want to participate in the Mass and reception because Simbang Gabi is a “meaningful tradition,” he added. People without Filipino heritage also are welcome.

Simbang Gabi Mass and reception in Bettendorf
The Filipino community in the Quad-City area will celebrate Simbang Gabi Dec. 16 at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m. followed by a reception in the parish hall.

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