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December 12, 2006 > Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi

Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi

by Praveena Raman

On Saturday, December 16, Latino and Filipino communities in the greater Tri-City area will be starting the Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi festivals in area churches. The celebrations include a recitation of prayers and devotional songs for nine consecutive days before Christmas Eve. Both Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi feature re-enactments of the story of the birth of Jesus.

Las Posadas was conceived in Mexico during the sixteenth century when a Spanish expedition conquered the Aztec empire and Mexico became a Spanish colony. The Catholic missionaries who came with the conquistadores found that the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their sun god, Huitzilopochtli, during the last days of December, about the same time as Christmas.

According to the Aztec story, Huitzilopochtli was conceived supernaturally by his mother Coatlicue. His brothers did not believe her and schemed to kill her. Huitzilopochtli came to her rescue and destroyed his brothers with a fire serpent. The Aztecs celebrated his birth from midnight through the following day, with singing, dancing, and speechmaking. Special dishes were prepared, including the making of small idols using corn paste and cactus honey. Huge bonfires were lit in the courtyards and on the flat roofs of their houses.

Noting the similarities between Aztec celebrations and Christmas, the missionaries used them to introduce the Aztecs to Christianity. During this time St. Ignatius Loyola suggested a Christmas novena, or special prayers, to be said on nine successive days before Christmas. A spirit of fun and joyful celebrations soon intermingled with the religious novena and the nine day celebration spread beyond the church to the community.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries Christmas celebrations start on December 16 with a processional led by children as soon as it gets dark. A child dressed as an angel heads the procession, followed by two more children carrying figures of Mary and Joseph on a small litter adorned with twigs of pine. Groups of boys and girls follow the lead figures, then come the grown-ups, and last of all, the musicians. They sing and chant special Posada songs and walk slowly carrying a lighted candle. The processional stops at a previously selected destination, on each of the eight nights before Christmas, and asks for lodging for the night. The people are first denied shelter. They again request lodging and are then invited in to read the scriptures and sing Christmas carols called alguinaldos.

After the carols are sung everyone is given a basket of Christmas sweets called colaciones along with sandwiches, cookies and fruit punch. Then a very fancy piÒata filled with candies and nuts is broken and the party begins. The nativity is left at the chosen destination and picked up on the next night when the processional begins again. This continues for eight nights in commemoration of the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

On the ninth night, Christmas Eve, an impressive posada takes place. On this evening an image of the Christ child is carried by two people, called godparents, who lay the image in a tiny crib in the nacimiento, or nativity scene. In some Mexican cities the procession on the ninth day will start in the church courtyard, go through the community and return to the church. In other cities there is a live enactment of the nativity with people dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds with animals and children giving gifts of flowers and fruits to the infant Jesus. The enactment ends with dancing and eating tamales and drinking hot chocolate.

Simbang Gabi

Meaning, “Mass at dawn,” Simbang Gabi starts on December 16 with early Mass every morning. The final event is a Misa de Gallo (Mass of the rooster) on Christmas. During these nine days there is a festive Filipino breakfast following Mass. In the Phillipines there is a parade after Mass which stops at different houses on each of the nine days. There is then a reenactment of the nativity followed by some sweets for the children.

The streets in the Philippines are decorated with brightly colored lanterns during Simbang Gabi. The festival features special treats like bibinka (bread baked on banana leaves) and hot chocolate. Christmas Day lunch again is a big affair with specialties like pancit (a noodle dish signifying long life), ham and other meats. Additional treats may include malangit (rice cakes) eaten with latik (dried coconut milk); suman (rice cake wrapped in palm leaves) eaten with latik and sugar; patati, or pig's feet; and lechon which is roasted pig.

Fremont celebrations

Beginning December 16, one and all are invited to gather at 6 p.m. each evening on the porch of the Mission San Jose Museum on Mission Blvd. If you go, bring a warm coat and a flash light. Carols are sung while walking to a local business where there is entertainment followed by light refreshments provided by the hosts. This celebration is sponsored by the Committee for Restoration of Mission San Jose and Fremont Cultural Arts Council.

For more information call Laura Diaz at (510) 657-1797 ext.103.

Las Posadas at Mission San Jose
6 p.m. each evening, December 16 - 24
Meet at the steps of Mission Museum
43300 Mission Blvd, Fremont

Saturday, December 16
Centerstage Singers
Knuti Van Hoven, Director
Prudential Realty
43505 Mission Blvd.

Sunday December 17
Sonic Fusion
Jim Burris, Director
Dominican Sisters
43326 Mission Blvd.

Monday, December 18
Star Struck Theater
Lori Stokes, Director
Olive Hyde Art Gallery
123 Washington Blvd.

Tuesday, December 19
De Anza Troubadours
Katherine Von Till
Old Rectory
152 Anza St.

Wednesday, December 20
Kristin del Rio, Vocalist
Mission Coffee
151 Washington Blvd.

Thursday, December 21
Wesley Bell Choir
Rebecca Combs, Director
Holy Family
159 Washington Blvd.

Friday, December 22
Connie Chew, Vocalist
Local History Museum
190 Anza St.

Saturday, December 23
Paula Harrington, Vocalist
Cheese Tasters
43367 Mission Blvd.

Sunday, December 24
Caroling and piÒata
Joe Faria, Pianist
Old Mission San Jose
43300 Mission Blvd.

Simbang Gabi
December 16 - 24
5 a.m.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church
37588 Fremont Blvd, Fremont
(510) 797-1660

Newark

Las Posadas
Friday, December 15
6 p.m.
Schilling School
36901 Spruce St., Newark.

Simbang Gabi
December 16 - 24
5 a.m.
St. Edward Church
5788 Thornton Ave. (near Cedar Blvd.), Newark
(510) 797-0241

 
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