THE Filipino community in New York and the entire US Northeast officially started their Christmas celebration with the lighting of the colorful parols and the Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado (Night Mass) at the Philippine Center in New York City on 3 December 2020.
Every year, the Philippine Center decorates its windows and lobby with parols (traditional Christmas lanterns) and handcrafted items to bring the spirit of the joyful Filipino Christmas to the Big Apple. The Simbang Gabi, on the other hand, is a nine-day series of masses leading up to Christmas and traditionally celebrated in the hours before dawn.
Consul General Petronila P. Garcia led the ceremonial lighting of the first of nine symbolic parols. One parol will be lit every evening, for nine days of the traditional Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado.
In her welcome remarks, Consul General Garcia extended her Christmas greetings to the 340,000-strong Filipino-American community in the U.S. Northeast, and thanked them for their selflessness and generosity. “It is during difficult and challenging times that we must stand resolute as a community and let our bayanihan spirit and resiliency shine,” she added.
Though it has been held for 32 years, it is the first time that the Simbang Gabi is being celebrated virtually. Since March when New York became the country’s COVID epicenter, large public gatherings have been prohibited by local authorities. This, however, did not dampen the spirit of the 79 organizations that enthusiastically joined the Consulate in converting this much-awaited Filipino tradition to a virtual format. The Simbang Gabi now draws thousands of views on Facebook and Youtube as more and more mass goers, from the East Coast and other parts of the U.S., participate in the comfort and safety of their homes.
The theme of this year’s Simbang Gabi saKonsulado is “Maluwalhati at Mapayapang Pasko sa Panahon ng Pandemya”. Despite the anxiety and uncertainties faced by society, Consul General Garcia encouraged the community to continue imparting love and blessings to others, and to overcome challenges with prayer and solidarity. She said, “As one Filipino-American community in the US Northeast, let us be a shining beacon of the true spirit of the Filipino Christmas—faith, peace, unity and bayanihan amidst any and all odds.”
After the mass, the Consulate General also held a memorial service honoring and remembering Fil-Am frontliners and members of the community who passed during the pandemic. Based on reports received by the Consulate, more than 100 in the US Northeast alone have succumbed to the disease since March. Fr. Patrick Longalong, Filipino pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, New York, officiated the Simbang Gabi and the memorial service.