Simbang Gabi In Seattle

By Suzanne Goloy-Lanot

This article is reprinted by permission of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where it first appeared first appeared on 19 December 2004. Suzanne Goloy-Lanot is originally from San Juan, Metro Manila, and her husband Leonardo, now retired from the US Navy, from Mandaluyong City. They live inBremerton, Washington State, with their daughter Adrienne Marie (23) and their son Jean-Lenard (19).

PHOTO: Bob Farmer

From its humble roots in the Philippines, the Simbang Gabi has been celebrated sporadically among Filipino communities throughout the United States. Now it is observed in its grandeur and pageantry as part of the Advent devotion in the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Parishes are encouraged to celebrate it, following a standard liturgy, including music and readings. Here it is a sacred ritual of lights, symbolized by the parol, which the Archbishop of Seattle, the Most Reverend Alexander J. Brunett, refers to as the Light of Christ. 

On 17 December 1997, on the eve of his installation, the archbishop celebrated the first Simbang Gabi and was so moved by the experience, he has since encouraged the entire archdiocese to participate in it.

Spearheaded by 27 parishes, the novena now involves over 80 parishes, including those without any Filipino members. Parish coordinators confer with the archdiocese and the schedule of Masses throughout western Washington State is disseminated through community publications and websites.

Like a crusade, the archdiocese tries to get more parishes involved every year. 

The Archdiocese of Seattle, home to people from different countries and cultures, has dominion over 10 deaneries that encompass over 160 parishes throughout western Washington State. My parish, Holy Trinity, as well as Our Lady, Star of the Sea and five other parishes and two mission churches, make up the Olympic Deanery.

The first novena Mass is called the Commissioning Mass, during which the archbishop commissions the parish coordinators to return to their parishes and commence the novena. Parishes within the deaneries then take turns in hosting the Simbang Gabi until the remaining eight novena Masses have been completed.

Because the vitality and significance of Simbang Gabi in the community has grown, the first Mass is now celebrated at St James Cathedral, Seattle,, the center for cultural and ecumenical events.

When I lived in the Philippines, I rarely attended the Simbang Gabi. But now, even on a stormy night and after a long day at work, I go all the way to Seattle to attend it, if only to see the parols hung near the altar, representing the parishes involved in this Advent devotion. 

For this I am thankful to Dr Telly Muldong-Tantay, a retired physician with the rank of captain in the US Navy and now a member of the Asian Pacific American Advisory Board of the Archdiocese of Seattle. She has been promoting Filipino Christian values and founded the San Lorenzo Ruiz Guild of the Our Lady Star of the Sea parish.

Kimona in freezing weather

I remember the first time I attended the Commissioning Mass at St James Cathedral. In the freezing downpour, the bus going to the ferry terminal was filled with passengers like me, clad in our nativekimona and barong underneath heavy coats and thick jackets.

Covered and protected from the elements, two parols were brought on board. One was from Our Lady Star of the Sea parish, the other from Holy Trinity, where I belong.

During the 45-minute trip to Seattle, across Puget Sound,, the ferry bobbed with the rhythm of the raging waves. However, amid the fury of the elements, there was a collective calmness among the passengers.

Because of the cold December weather and rushed workday mornings, Simbang Gabi is celebrated at night followed by a reception, ranging from a simple merienda to an extravagant fiesta, complete with cultural entertainment.

Last year, the commissioning rites were moved to a noontime weekend Mass in order to accommodate workers and to allow an easier commute for those who had to travel from the far ends of western Washington, especially during inclement weather.

Dazzling procession

As I entered the 100-year-old St James Cathedral, a fine example of Italian Renaissance style, I was immediately made aware of the Divine presence by the Latin mosaic inscription Domus Dei, Porta Coeli (House of God, Gate of Heaven) on the floor.

After admiring the stained glass windows and the exquisitely crafted paneled ceiling, which emulated the coffering techniques of some of the great cathedrals and basilicas of Europe, I proceeded toward the sanctuary which was positioned at a cross point where the transepts intersected. At the center of the sanctuary stood the altar, beneath a circular skylight called the oculus Dei (eye of God).

Then the lights were diffused and the first chords of Advent music from the pipe organ reverberated. Subsequently, rays of crimson, azure, emerald and gold radiated from a procession of parols of varied sizes, shapes and colors, illuminating the path toward the sanctuary. 

Fastened on poles and carried by parish coordinators, the parols dazzled with the brilliance of kaleidoscopic sequences and others, more traditional in design, glowed with subtlety and grace. This stunning exhibition of lights was followed by the procession of altar servers, deacons and priests, culminating in the arrival of the archbishop.

Filipino pride

Touched by the radiance of the parols, the archbishop stood in the midst of the parish coordinators gathered around the sanctuary and performed the commissioning rites that commenced the first novena Mass of the Simbang Gabi.

A choir of about a hundred members from various parishes joined in celestial harmony with renditions of Filipino liturgical compositions. As songs of exaltation filled the air, a huge, golden five-point star descended from the ceiling, preceding a stream of smaller stars. It remained suspended over the altar.

My heart swelled with Filipino pride.

Serenade for archbishop

But what touched me most was the archbishop's brief yet impressive salutation in alog, and his powerful message to the congregation, portraying the parol a as the Light of Christ.

This year, in appreciation of the archbishop's tremendous support of Simbang Gabi a serenade in Filipino fashion will honor him when he makes his entrance to the banquet hall.


The essence of this celebration is in the spirituality shared by a diverse community of believers. For me and for countless others who observe this Advent devotion, the gathering in Seattle has become a pilgrimage.