By Christina Hermoso
Age-old Christmas Eve traditions that have been passed on for generations will once again be observed around the country as the nation marks the culmination of the nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (Dawn Masses) tonight.
The Misa de Gallo (Christmas Eve Mass) which is a culmination of the novena masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary that began last Dec. 16, will be celebrated in all Catholic churches shortly before midnight or earlier in some parishes. In some churches, the Eucharistic celebration will be marked with the reenactment of the journey of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Mother in search of lodging for the soon-to-be born Messiah.
The religious play, which was patterned after the Spanish “Las Posadas,” is known as “panunuluyan,” “pananawagan,” or “pananapatan.” Churchgoers excitedly await the play as it serves as a ‘reenactment’ of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.
During the mass, Church rites will include the lighting of the white center candle – the Christ candle -in the Advent wreath to herald the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The Belen will also finally be complete with the addition of the Baby Jesus, which has been conspicuously missing in some mangers since it was set up.
The Christmas Eve Mass is traditionally held at midnight following the belief that Jesus was born at night (Luke 2:6-8). This is also reflected in reference to Christmas Eve as the Holy Night, or “Heilige Nacht” in German, and Good Night, which is Noche Buena in Spanish, and in widely popular Christmas songs like “Silent Night” and “Oh, Holy Night.”
After the midnight mass, families will gather for the Noche Buena, the traditional Christmas Eve feast where popular holiday fares and Filipino favorites are served.
The feast is, in part, in thanksgiving for the blessings of the current year while prayerfully anticipating a better year ahead for the family. Gifts are usually opened after the festive dinner while children excitedly await their surprises from “Santa Claus.”
The Christmas season liturgically begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in January.
Pope Francis will celebrate the Christmas Eve Papal Mass at 9:30 p.m. at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy. The Holy Father earlier presided over the first Misa de Aguinaldo (Simbang Gabi) at the basilica last December 15 for the Filipinos in Rome.