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You’re probably familiar with the 12 Days of Christmas, but in the Philippines — and among the Filipino diaspora across the world — many celebrate
a nine-day series of Masses leading up to Dec. 23, right before Christmas.

That tradition is called Simbang Gabi, meaning, literally, “midnight Mass,” in
Tagalog, one of the many languages spoken in the Philippines, Easter Byrne
explained.

Byrne is the director of operations for St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand,
where Filipinos and Filipino Americans flocked to celebrate the season and eat
good food Dec. 21.

From the evening of Dec. 15 to Dec. 23, the Filipino Ministry in the Diocese of
Orlando hosted Simbang Gabi services across its area, and on Dec. 21, St. Peter got its turn.

Services were conducted by the Rev. Mariano Catura from Saint Anthony
Catholic Church in Lakeland, with music provided by the Filipino Choir of the Diocese of Orlando. The final night of services was at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood.

While services in DeLand started at 7 p.m., it’s not uncommon for traditional Simbang Gabi services to start as early as 3 a.m.

The tradition of the Simbang Gabi dates back to the 17th century, for
Filipino farmers who started work early to avoid the heat of the day. The nine-day services culminate with the misa de gallo, which is Spanish for the rooster’s Mass.

Services at St. Peter ended Dec. 21 with a potluck feast of Filipino food that included staples like chicken adobo, pancit (a rice-noodle dish), biko (a sweet sticky-rice dessert) and more.

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