December 24, 2006


Filipinos Gather In Va. Before Dawn For an Annual Rite: Early Mass Is a Christmas Tradition (Tara Bahrampour, December 24, 2006, Washington Post)

The sky was dark and wet fog hung over the roadways, but just before 5 a.m. yesterday, car headlights converged in Arlington.

Outside the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church hung four "parols," the Filipino term for the star of Bethlehem, beckoning worshipers to the eighth day of a ritual called Simbang Gabi.

"When I was a child [in the Philippines], we went every day with my mother and sister," said Marina Balbado, an 84-year-old wearing a gold-colored lace head covering. "We walked on our knees from the door up to the altar."

Each year, from Dec. 16 to 24, Filipinos awake before dawn to attend the service, which celebrates the novena, marking the nine days leading to the birth of Jesus. The ritual began centuries ago when Spanish friars in the Philippines adjusted their schedule to encourage farmers and fishermen to attend Mass before going out to the fields or the sea.

In the Philippines, which is about 86 percent Catholic, many families make their own parols, and trees outside churches twinkle with the stars. After Mass, as the sun rises, worshipers pour into the streets, where outdoor stalls sell breakfast treats.

In the Washington area, St. Charles is the only church to have Simbang Gabi at dawn, though other parishes host evening Masses for the occasion. A 2005 census counted around 38,000 Filipino-born residents in the metro area; embassy officials estimate up to 200,000 residents are of Filipino descent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2006 8:50 AM

Thanks for helping to spread the word. You can also find photos from last year's Simbang Gabi on the St. Charles website.

Posted by: Faithful Web at December 27, 2006 6:57 PM