Christmas comes early for Filipinos at Sydney Simbang Gabi


Being in Australia hasn't stopped Filipinos taking part in one of their country's annual December traditions.

Only the most dedicated make their way up the church steps at the crack of dawn. But these Filipinos are committed Catholics and relentlessly positive.

Around 150 worshipers arrived at Our Lady of Dolours Church in Chatswood, in Sydney's north, on Tuesday morning. And they will keep coming for nine mornings in a row. Simbang Gabi masses are held daily from 16–24 December in anticipation of Christmas.

Father Dado Haber told SBS News: "Wherever the Filipinos are they continue the tradition, so obviously here in Australia they've imported the tradition."

"Here at the church they have it at 5.30am, which is a little bit late compared to the Philippines, where they have it at 4am.

"But it's a beautiful time, a quiet time to pray and to prepare ourselves in preparation for Christmas."

Churchgoers at Our Lady of Dolours Church.
Churchgoers at Our Lady of Dolours Church in Sydney.

Simbang Gabi originated in the 17th century. It was introduced by the Spanish during their near-400 year rule of the Philippines. Masses were originally held at dawn so farmers could attend, and eat, before heading to work in the fields. 

The Chatswood gathering was organised by the Filipino Chaplaincy of Chatswood Parish (FCCP) and provided a chance for the community to continue their traditions together. 

Simbang Gabi: Father Dado Haber, right.
Father Dado Haber, right.

"It's very important for us because tradition reinforces our faith and freedom, because we can practise it here as well," FCCP co-ordinator Ditas Naguit said.

"Filipinos are rich in tradition and rich in customs.

"An awareness of what we do helps us assimilate with the rest, and understand that they also have customs and traditions."

An awareness of what we do helps us assimilate with the rest

- FCCP co-ordinator Ditas Naguit

The Philippines is the third-largest Catholic country in the world. And with nearly 250,000 Filipinos in Australia, it's no surprise Simbang Gabi has travelled with the community. 

"I feel proud, in a way, that we are the ones leading this practice and this tradition," Father Haber said. 

Simbang Gabi

Like any Filipino celebration, the masses involve plenty of food.Traditional Filipino cuisine and hot drinks are ready outside for when the churchgoers emerge into the sunlight. 

In the future, FCCP intends to promote Simbang Gabi as a Filipino tradition that is open to all. 

Peter Walden is one such non-Filipino in attendance this year. His Filipino wife introduced him to the tradition and the former "lapsed-Anglican" has committed to the nine-day stretch for the second year in a row.

"I think it's lovely, they're excited," Mr Walden said.

"You can feel it here, and I'm pretty sure the people who've never been before can feel it too.

"It's really nice."

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