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Tradition lights way to birth of Christ child


TRADITION: “Parols,” star-shaped lanterns decorated with lights, are a part of the diocese’s Simbang Gabi Mass, which will be held Dec. 14 at St. Michael Church in Paradise Hills. (Credit: David Maung)

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SAN DIEGO — Simbang Gabi is Filipino for “Night Masses” and consists of a novena of Masses to honor the Blessed Mother as she prepares to give birth to the Christ Child.

In the Diocese of San Diego, these Masses are held in almost 20 parishes and are preceded by a diocesan vigil and commissioning Mass.

As always, all faithful are invited to this year’s vigil, to be held at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 14, at St. Michael Church in Paradise Hills. Cardinal Robert W. McElroy will celebrate the candlelit Mass with Auxiliary Bishops Ramón Bejarano, Michael Pham and Felipe Pulido. The Mass will be preceded by a procession of colorful, star-shaped lanterns called “parols” and by a recitation of the rosary.

For Amor Figuración, a member of the local Filipino Catholic community, Simbang Gabi is an opportunity for “renewal” in the days just before Christmas.

“It’s such a blessing because, basically, you’re starting your holiday before the birth (of Jesus) at Christmas,” he said, explaining that the commitment to attending Masses on nine consecutive nights is a way of “offering yourself for peace, love and hope.”

Figuración, a parishioner of St. Mary Parish in National City, participated in Simbang Gabi in his native Philippines as a youth and, since moving to the United States about 30 years ago, has continued to keep the tradition.

In 2019, he made the parol that represents the Filipino organization United Bicol of San Diego in the procession at the annual diocesan vigil for Simbang Gabi.

Measuring about 3 feet wide, it consists of a five-pointed star made of bamboo sticks with a covering composed of raffia and abacá fiber. There is a battery-operated strobe light inside the star, and Christmas lights adorn each of the five spikes, as well as the two “tails” that trail from it. The parol is adorned with the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and is held aloft with a wooden pole.

Figuración estimates that it took him about one week to construct the parol. In the past two years, he has added more lights to make it brighter.

“The parol … signifies the symbol of the star that guided the Three Kings,” he said.

Having carried that parol into the diocesan vigil from 2019 until last year, Figuración hopes to hand it off to a different family this year, so that the experience can be shared with others.

With the parol he constructed having served its purpose for five years, he would like to see another family construct a new parol for next year.

“By doing your own parol,” he said, “you have that personal touch and commitment to the Lord.”

See a schedule of the Simbang Gabi services at

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