Faith & Life


By DANIELLE TABAYAS     12/13/2023

When I was a child, I remember hearing about the “Chocolate Mountains” in Bohol, Philippines where my grandpa was from. My imagery was that of mountain-sized Hershey Kisses.

As an adult I discovered another joy associated with the roots of my heritage. Simbang Gabi!


Catholicism sprung up 502 years ago in Cebu, Philippines where my grandma was born. In 1521, a Spanish fleet led by Ferdinand Magellan, who was a Catholic, arrived in Cebu. He evangelized the natives including its ruler, Rajah Humabon and subjects. About 800 of them were baptized.

Nearby resistance arose from the ruler of Mactan Island, Lapu-Lapu, who saw to the execution of Magellan and his comrades.

The Spanish continued to send expeditions to the Philippines and Christianity flourished. In 1543, explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos made a trip to the islands and officially named it “Las Islas Filipinas” (The Philippine Islands) in honor of King Philip II of Spain.

An ocean away, in 1587, Catholic Masses were overflowing with people leading up to Christmas in Mexico.
Fray Diego de Soria, the Prior of San Agustin Acolman Convento, petitioned Pope Sixtus V and asked permission to hold outdoor Christmastide Masses. Approval was granted.

In 1668, Simbang Gabi sprung forth in the Philippines inspired by the practice of Spaniard Missionaries from Mexico who celebrated Misas de Aguinaldo or Misas de Gallo (Mass of the Roosters) in honor of the Annunciation held before dawn for the field laborers.

Likewise, Filipino farmers and fishermen who would begin or end their day of work at dawn or twilight attended a Novena of Masses nine days before Christmas that started as early as 4 a.m. This was held from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24 in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in anticipation of the Nativity of Our Lord.

They offered prayers, petitions, and asked for special intentions and gifts, beseeching God’s blessings. Church bells would ring to gather the people to Simbang Gabi. A colorful display of Filipino Christmas star shaped lanterns called parols were seen hanging outside of people’s homes – symbolic of the Bethlehem star that led the three wise men to the birthplace of Jesus.

The beauty of the Simbang Gabi celebration has spread worldwide. After each Holy Mass there is a festive reception of food, fellowship and joyful camaraderie. Simbang Gabi remains a heartfelt tradition during Advent by Filipinos and those of other cultures who recall the love and sacrifices made by the Holy Family and their forefathers of faith.

Here is one of my family favorites you could make and take to Simbang Gabi.

1 package lumpia wrappers
1 lb ground pork
1/4 lb shrimp cut into pieces (omit for
those with an allergy)
1 package green string beans cut into
1/4 inch thickness
1 package mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic diced
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying
Dipping Sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup white vinegar
add water to dilute according to taste
add a dab of shoyu for color (optional)
Brown the ground meat and shrimp until fully cooked. Add the green beans, bean sprouts, onions and garlic until fully cooked then drain.
Lay the wrapper flat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto the center and spread it into a horizontal line. Fold
the wrapping over the filling and tuck it tight. Fold in the two sides and roll it tightly. Wet the edge with water to seal it.
Deep fry the lumpia in oil until golden brown and place the fried lumpia on a paper towel to drain any excess oil.
Serve the lumpia with the dipping sauce.

OC Catholic Recipe Swap
If you have a favorite family recipe you would like to share, please send to [email protected]. Please tell us why the recipe is special to you; include your name, parish and a photo of the completed recipe.