Faith & Filipino Food Fill St. Mary at 2022 Simbang Gabi Opener

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.

Simbang Gabi Celebrants
St. Mary Simbang Gabi celebrants and assistants: (LtoR ) Deacon Bugsy Sindac, Father Jose Menemil Cerna, Father Dindo Billote, Father Sam Conforti, Deacon Luciano Coson

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.

Simbang Gabi Choir
The Pamanang Lahi Western Cluster Simbang Gabi musicians and singers provided music for the Mass.

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.

Fr. Dindo with Parol
Fr. Dindo, dressed in a traditional Filipino barong shirt, poses next to the parol.

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.

Egg Rolls and Pancit
Filipino egg rolls and pancit noodles were served following the Simbang Gabi Mass.

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.

Filipino Desserts at St. Mary Mokena Simbang Gabi
Traditional Filipino rice-based desserts were served, including cassava cake, kutchinta, and pichi-pichi.
St. Mary Simbang Gabi Mango Cake
Volunteers baked a special St. Mary Simbang Gabi Mango cake. Yum!

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.

Traditional Filipino Dancing
The PACF Performing Arts youth group performed traditional Filipino dances during the Simbang Gabi reception. Fr. Dindo gave the traditional Tinikling dance a try.

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!

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