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December 10, 2008 > Fiesta: Nine days before Christmas

Fiesta: Nine days before Christmas

By Praveena Raman

On December 16 Tri-City communities will start celebrating the nine day pre-Christmas festivals Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi in area churches. Though these festivals originate from Mexico and Philippines, here they are celebrated by people from different ethnicities. The festival includes a recitation of prayers (novenas) and devotional songs for nine consecutive days before Christmas Eve. They also feature re-enactments of the story of the birth of Jesus. Las Posadas which has been celebrated at Mission San Jose in Fremont since 1982, will be celebrated this year from December 15 and end on December 23 instead of the traditional Christmas Eve.

Las Posadas (means "inn" in Spanish) and Simbang Gabi trace their roots back to the Spanish civilization. In the 16th century, Catholic missionaries who had accompanied Spanish conquistadores to Mexico found that the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their sun god Huitzilopochtli during the last days of December, around the winter solstice, at about the same time as Christmas. The celebrations started 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. Seeing the similarities between the Aztec celebration and Christmas they used it to introduce the Aztecs to a new religion, Christianity. During this time St. Ignatius Loyola suggested a Christmas novena, or special prayers to be said on nine successive days before Christmas. This religious novena was also later introduced in Mexico. A spirit of fun and joyful celebrations soon intermingled with the religious novena and the nine day celebration moved from the church to the community and the festival of Las Posadas was born.

Christianity was brought to Philippines by the Spanish Missionaries from Mexico. Together with the new religion they also introduced the celebration of Christmas and Las Posadas. Here the nine day festival celebrated during the Advent festival was called Simbang Gabi.

Both Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi start on December 16 with a procession and the re-enactment of the story of the birth of Jesus.

The Las Posadas mass and procession takes place in the evening. During the procession people sing and chant special Posada songs and walk slowly carrying a lighted candle and the nativity cr¸che. 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 pi–ata 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 celebration takes place. In some Mexican cities there is a live enactment of the birth of Jesus 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.

The main Simbang Gabi celebrations are the Aguinaldo Masses which start on December 16 and last until Christmas Eve. Christmas trees are brought home at the beginning of December and kept until January 6th, the Day of the Three Kings. They are decorated with ornaments made of Capiz, wood, paper and plastic usually having religious themes.

During "Simbang Gabi," Masses take place early in the morning. Church bells ring to signal the coming of dawn and also let people know that Mass will be starting. During Mass, hymns and carols are sung traditionally in Tagalog. After Mass, traditional Filipino snacks are available to be eaten and then the procession or panuluyan start and go to a particular host re-enacting the story of the birth of Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, huge "parol" or Star Lanterns are lit in the community and the whole neighborhood comes together to celebrate. Usually there is a community band that plays traditional Christmas music and the lights in the "parol" light up at different times forming beautiful designs and patterns.

Las Posadas celebrations:

Mission San Jose, Fremont: The celebration of Las Posadas has been a tradition at the Mission San Jose in Fremont for more than 20 years. While many communities around the Bay Area have a one to two day celebration for Las Posadas, the Fremont community has always enjoyed the traditional nine day celebration. Beginning December 15, 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 (Fremont)
December 15 - 23
6 p.m. each evening
Meet at the steps of Mission Museum
43300 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 657-1797 ext.103

Monday, December 15
Paula Harrington, Soprano
Cheese Tasters
43367 Mission Blvd.

Tuesday, December 16
Living Witness Hand Bell Choir from Fremont Christian High School
Holy Family Convent
159 Washington Blvd.

Wednesday, December 17
Sharon Xavier de Souza, Soprano
Mission Coffee
151 Washington Blvd.

Thursday, December 18
St. Josephs School Choir
St. Josephs School
Mission Blvd.

Friday, December 19
Connie Chew, Soprano
Local History Museum
190 Anza St.

Saturday, December 20
Anza Street Troubadours
Von Till Law Offices
Old Rectory
152 Anza St.

Sunday, December 21
Sonic Fusion
Jim Burris, Director
Dominican Sisters
43326 Mission Blvd.

Monday, December 22
Center Stage Singers
Knuti Van Hoven, Director
Prudential Realty
43430 Mission Blvd.

Tuesday, December 23
Olive Hyde Art Gallery
123 Washington Blvd.

December, 16-25
St. Edward Catholic Church
5788 Thornton Ave., Newark
(510) 797-0241 - for times

Simbang Gabi:

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

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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