The smell of pancit and egg rolls wafted across St. Mary on Wednesday, December 14th as the parish hosted the opening night of Simbang Gabi, a nine-day Filipino tradition of Mass, food, and fellowship.
This is the third time the parish has hosted Simbang Gabi, and the first time since 2018 that a delicious assortment of homemade Filipino food was served in the parish hall following the Mass. The event was organized by volunteers for the Diocese of Joliet Western Simbang Gabi Cluster. There is also an Eastern Cluster that organizes concurrent Simbang Gabi Masses in the eastern part of the diocese.
Despite flash floods outside, people of all ethnicities filled the Church for Mass, which featured a special Simbang Gabi choir and other cultural highlights. One of these was the parol, which is a Filipino star lantern mounted on a pole meant to represent the Star of Bethlehem. Another highlight involved children presenting an empty manger and mantle after the homily to anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
After the festive Mass, everyone went downstairs for a free, late-evening dinner of traditional Filipino foods. On the menu was pancit, a Filipino noodle dish, egg rolls, Mongolian beef, and pork asado in red sauce.
Many were tempted to skip dinner and go straight to dessert, which included cassava cake, kutchinta, pichi-pichi, mango cake, and more. Many of these desserts were rice-based delicacies that are popular in the Philippines.
After dinner, satisfied guests were treated to traditional Filipino dancing put on by PACF Performing Arts, a Filipino youth dance group based in the western suburbs. They performed the Tinikling, the traditional dance of the Philippines where the dancers skip between bamboo sticks. Even St. Mary Mokena’s own Father Dindo gave it a shot.
The Simbang Gabi tradition began in the Philippines during Spanish rule as an early morning Mass held for nine days preceding Christmas. Since farmers would have to work all day in the oppressive heat, the church ran the Masses in the morning, while it was still dark, to make it easier for people to attend. In the modern era, the Masses have largely moved to the evenings, but there are still cases where the morning tradition continues.
St. Mary Mokena would like to thank all of the volunteers, celebrants, and attendees who made the 2022 launch of Simbang Gabi a huge success!