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December 9, 2009 > Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi

Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi

By Praveena Raman

Latino and Filipino communities in the greater Tri-City area will be celebrating Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi Christmas festivals in area churches from December 15. The celebrations include recitation of prayers (novenas) and devotional songs for nine consecutive days before Christmas Eve. Both Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi have Spanish origins featuring re-enactments of the story of the birth of Jesus.

Las Posadas's history:

Las Posadas started in Mexico during the sixteenth century when a Spanish expedition conquered the Aztec empire and Mexico became a Spanish colony. 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 Coatlicue's 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 construction of small idols using corn paste and cactus honey. Huge bonfires were lit in courtyards and on the flat roofs of their houses.

Noting the similarities between Aztec celebrations and Christmas, missionaries used the celebrations 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.

Las Posadas starts with a processional as soon as it gets dark; a designated person carries the Creche. Carols and hymns are sung until the processional stops at a previously selected destination, one 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 and treated to a Christmas concert and cookies and fruit punch. 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 and ends on the ninth night at the Mission or Church.

Simbang Gabi history:

Christianity was brought to Philippines by Spanish Missionaries from Mexico. With the new religion they also introduced the celebration of Las Posadas. Here the nine day festival celebrated during Advent was called Simbang Gabi meaning, "Mass at dawn." During Simbang Gabi there is a mass every morning for eight days with the ninth day Mass called Misa de Gallo (Mass of the rooster) being on Christmas. During these nine days a festive Filipino breakfast follows Mass. In the Philippines a parade follows Mass stopping at different houses on each of the nine days. A reenactment of the nativity is followed by sweets for the children.

Las Posadas's 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

Tuesday, December 15
Kristin Del Rio
Mission Coffee
151 Washington Blvd., Fremont

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

Thursday, December 17
Sharon Xavier de Souza, Soprano
Cheese Tasters
43367 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Friday, December 18
Gary Currie
Local History Museum
190 Anza St., Fremont

Saturday, December 19
Center Stage Singers
Knuti Van Hoven, Director
Pink Swirl Yogurt
43423 Mission Blvd., (between Anza St & Operations Rd), Fremont

Sunday, December 20
Madrigal Singers
James Burris, Director
Dominican Sisters
43326 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Monday, December 21
Connie Chew, Soprano
Prudential Realty
43430 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Tuesday, December 22
Anza Street Troubadours
Von Till Law Offices
Old Rectory
152 Anza St., Fremont

Wednesday, December 23
Paula Harrington, Soprano
Olive Hyde Art Gallery
123 Washington Blvd., Fremont

December, 16-24
St. Edward Catholic Church
5788 Thornton Ave., Newark
For times call (510) 797-0241

Simbang Gabi celebrations:

The Filipino Community of St. Joseph (TFCSJ)
December 19
6 a.m.
Old Mission Church, Fremont
A reception will follow immediately after the mass at the Church hall. If you would like to join the Filipino choir and/or help in the preparation for this event, please contact Nanette at (510) 396-9775.

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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