You can take a Filipino out of the Philippines but you can’t take the Christmas spirit out of a Filipino. Wherever they are, Filipinos celebrate the holidays the way they did back home in the Philippines. Their community in New York and the US Northeast—about 340,000 Filipino-Americans—is no exception.
The Philippine Center on 5th Avenue, New York is now decorated with colorful parols. Every year, it decorates its windows and lobby with parols (traditional Christmas lanterns) and handcrafted items to bring the spirit of the joyful Filipino Christmas to the Big Apple.
The consulate is also hosting virtual Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado (Night Mass) at the Philippine Center in New York City. Simbang Gabi is a nine-day series of Masses leading to Christmas Eve and traditionally celebrated in the hours before dawn.
Consul General Petronila P. Garcia led the ceremonial lighting of the first of nine symbolic parols last week. One parol will be lit every evening for the nine days of Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado.
Garcia said, “It is during difficult and challenging times that we must stand resolute as a community and let our bayanihan spirit and resiliency shine.”
Though it has been held for 32 years, it is the first time that the Simbang Gabi is being celebrated virtually. Since March when New York became the country’s COVID epicenter, large public gatherings have been prohibited by local authorities.
This didn’t dampen the spirit of the 79 organizations that enthusiastically joined the consulate in converting this much-awaited Filipino tradition to a virtual format. It now draws thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube as more and more mass goers, from the East Coast and other parts of the US, participate in the comfort and safety of their homes.
The theme of this year's Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado is "Maluwalhati at Mapayapang Pasko sa Panahon ng Pandemya." Despite the anxiety and uncertainties faced by society, Garcia encouraged the community to continue imparting love and blessings to others, and to overcome challenges with prayer and solidarity. "As one Filipino-American community in the US Northeast, let us be a shining beacon of the true spirit of the Filipino Christmas—faith, peace, unity and bayanihan amid any and all odds."
After the Mass, a memorial service honoring and remembering Fil-Am frontliners and members of the community who passed during the pandemic was held. Based on reports received by the consulate, more than 100 in the US Northeast alone have succumbed to the disease since March. Fr. Patrick Longalong, Filipino pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, New York, officiated the Simbang Gabi and the memorial service.