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The usual Simbang Gabi scene in the Philippines, pre-Covid times. (Alamy image used for illustrative purpose)
The usual Simbang Gabi scene in the Philippines, pre-Covid times. (Alamy image used for illustrative purpose)

Christmas 2020: Filipinos’ virtual Simbang Gabi in UAE starts tonight

Abu Dhabi - Overseas Filipinos are also welcome to attend novena masses that will be live-streamed from the Philippines.


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Tue 15 Dec 2020, 7:21 PM

Last updated: Tue 15 Dec 2020, 7:23 PM

While Filipinos’ Simbang Gabi (novena masses) will never be the same without the smell of bibingka (rice cakes) and puto bumbong (purple rice cakes rolled in coconut) on the streets, expats are still looking forward to their nine-day Christmas tradition, which starts tonight.

In Abu Dhabi, St Joseph’s Cathedral will be telecasting the service online from tonight (December 15) until December 23, every 7.30pm. Simbang Gabi officially starts every December 16 and runs until December 24 — but anticipated masses are usually held so some would begin the tradition on the evening of December 15.

For parishioners in Dubai, the Filipino community of St Mary’s Church will be tuning into the masses at 7.45pm, which will be live-streamed on the SMCFilipino Facebook page.

Abu Dhabi resident Katherine Sordilla Flores said: “This is an important tradition for the Filipino community. I will miss going to the church for the mass. It would have been great to have attended with my dear ones, but I will now follow the service online.”

Bobie Cagantaz Adaque, another resident, said that under the current circumstances, an online mass is the best option.

“For sure, Filipinos will be missing the church atmosphere and the entire Simbang Gabi experience. But in this situation, I am grateful to St Joseph’s Cathedral for holding the Holy Mass online. I hope and pray that this pandemic is past us without causing any more trouble to mankind.”

Christmas wish

As part of the Simbang Gabi tradition, Filipinos believe that if one is able to attend all nine days of novena masses, one gets to make a wish.

Flores said: “I will pray and wish for the world to soon become free of Covid-19 and we can get our normal lives back.”

Marge Escaro Diaz, a Dubai resident, said that with the masses going virtual “finally, I will have a better chance of completing the nine-day tradition”.

“And this year, it is extra special for us because in a way, we get to have a sense of ‘normality’ as we practise some of the traditions of Christmas,” she added.

Attending masses back home

Even back in the Philippines, Simbang Gabi will largely be held virtually, owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

This means Filipino expats overseas will have the chance to take part in masses back home and sing the Christmas carols and praises they grew up with.

The Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP), for example. will be hosting its annual Simbang Gabi tradition online at 5am (1am, Dubai time) from December 16 to 24. Nine different parishes in the Philippines’ Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will be holding the masses for the CCP.

These Philippine masses will be livestreamed via the official CCP Facebook page and YouTube Channel.

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