NA ST FRANCIS CHURCH-1639574359466
File photo of a mass on Christmas Eve at St Fransis Asisi Chruch in Jebel Ali, Dubai Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Christmas is just around the corner and Filipino Catholics in Dubai will once again be able to cherish Simbang Gabi, one of their long-held religious traditions this festive season.

Face-to-face Simbang Gabi, a devotional nine-day series of Masses traditionally held at dawn, is back at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jebel Ali, beginning on Thursday, December 16, at 6am.

Fr. Jozef Timmers

Fr. Jozef Timmers, OFM Cap., assistant parish priest at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, told Gulf News: “I’m so happy to announce that at St Francis we will once again have the Simbang Gabi beginning Thursday at 6am. Simbang Gabi will run daily until December 24.”

He added: “It is so wonderful to be able to do this [Simbang Gabi] once again. This bring us happiness and we welcome the liberating message that Christmas brings to the world.”

No registration required

St. Francis Church posted on its website: “Please note that from 16th December to 24th December, there will be Simbang Gabi [Misa De Gallo] at 6am in the Church + Hall. The English 6.15am Mass will be suspended until 25th December. There is no registration required and no restrictions on age for Simbang Gabi. It will be on a first-come first-served basis.”

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Sharjah will also have a live Simbang Gabi starting from December 15 until December 23 at 8pm. The mass, however, on December 17 will be at 6.45pm.

Online Simbang Gabi

Meanwhile, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha, Dubai, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi will only have virtual Simbang Gabi.

St. Joseph’s will start the livestreaming of the mass on December 15 at 7.30pm while St. Mary’s Church will have their online Simbang Gabi from December 15 until December 23 every 8pm via SMCFilipino Facebook page.

Christmas tradition
Simbang Gabi is a Filipino Christmas tradition that began in the late 1600s during the Spanish colonial era. Filipino Catholics brought the tradition to the UAE in the early 2000 and masses were held in the evening. St Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha used to host 25,000 church goers for the 8pm mass prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but last year all Simbang Gabi across the UAE were only held online. For the Filipino expat community, Simbang Gabi is not just an expression of faith but also a community celebration ahead of Christmas. There is always a festive atmosphere as singing of Christmas carols precede every mass and traditional Christmas delicacies like puto bumbong (steamed rice pastry) and bibingka (rice cake) are available at the churchyard.

‘Togetherness of kabayans’

Manny Abulencia

Manny Abulencia, choir member at St Francis, told Gulf News: “Simbang Gabi is truly a wonderful experience. We serve by singing in the choir and we totally feel the togetherness of our kabayans [compatriots] here in Dubai in welcoming and celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

‘Thank you, UAE’

Filipino expat Rem Sagarino, a Dubai resident, added: “We are so blessed that after 20-plus months we can now attend the Filipino tradition Simbang Gabi at our church. I would like to say a big appreciation to the UAE government for handling the pandemic well. We can now return to our churches safely with our family and friends.”

Rem Sagarino and family-1639574365830
Rem Sagarino and family Image Credit: Supplied

Caloy Serrano, a church volunteer, said: “Simbang Gabi is a yearly tradition that we look forward to. I’m sure many Filipinos will go to St Francis Church. But I also pray that everyone will practice the health protocols, like social distancing and wearing of face masks. God bless and advanced Merry Christmas to everyone.”