Asian American Christmas Tradition: Simbang Gabi

flickr photo credit: Storm Crypt

“We have to be there at 5 AM.”

My kids were rather unhappy that our first trip to Simbang Gabi was going to require waking up extremely early during their Christmas vacation.  What is Simbang Gabi?  It is a traditional Filipino practice during the Christmas Season – a series of nine early morning masses starting on December 16 and ending on Christmas Eve.  Even though I grew up in the Bay Area with a lot of Filipinos, I had never been to any part of Simbang Gabi or even heard of it when I was growing up.  But now, despite the pain of getting up to go to church before the sun comes up, this tradition seems to be spreading in the US.

What is the appeal of Simbang Gabi?  Beyond individuals’ own internal religious devotion, I think there are a number of factors.   The Wife tells me that it Simbang Gabi was a great place to meet boys, and male Filipinos have said that it was a great place to meet girls.  The music at Simbang Gabi was excellent – not just because my sister was conducting the choir assembled just for Simbang gabi but because some of the songs in Tagalog were beautiful.  Finally, there is the factor of food.  After a Simbang Gabi mass, there is usually breakfast provided afterward.  I was really looking forward to that.

I have included a few pictures of the food there.  I was hoping for a tapsilog breakfast (tapa, fried rice, and scrambled eggs), but having some of one of my favorite comfort foods, arroz caldo, made up for it.  The mass was held in the town I grew up in, and I got to meet the parents of old friends and classmates and even got to see some of my old classmates.  My parents were happy to show off their grandchildren to their friends.   I really enjoyed the chance to spend some time with family and old friends away from the usual holiday frenzy.

Will we go next year?   My sister has committed to directing next year’s Simbang Gabi choir.   I have learned that a church much closer than my parents has one also.  Finally, my brother-in-law also told me about another that has a really good breakfast.    Looks like Simbang Gabi will become a tradition in my family!

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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