Rich in tradition

December 20, 2011

HOUSTON — The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is ethnically and culturally rich when it comes to Advent and Christmas traditions. Mass is celebrated in the Archdiocese in at least 12 different languages. 

As a diverse, multicultural Archdiocese, there are many celebrations happening during Advent and Christmas. Here is a glimpse into just a few celebrations within the Hispanic, African American, Filipino and Vietnamese communities in the Archdiocese.

Filipino Catholics
Simbang Gabi is one of the longest and most popular traditions among Filipinos in the Philippines. Catholic churches across the nation start to open their doors shortly before the break of dawn to welcome the faithful to Simbang Gabi Mass. Simbang Gabi, or “Mass at Dawn”, is a nine-day novena to the Blessed Mother. The novena begins Dec. 16 as early as 4 a.m. and ends on Christmas Eve to welcome the birth of Savior Jesus Christ. 

“This prepares people for the coming of Jesus in the Spirit of Mary. [It] is a beautiful tradition to keep aware the spiritual meaning of Christmas,” said Monsignor Seth Hermoso, Vicar of Filipino Catholics in the Archdiocese.

According to the Archdiocese of Manila (, Simbang Gabi traces its origins to Mexico, to a monastic monk by the name of Fray Diego de Soria. He is said to have received Vatican permission to hold an outdoor Mass at dawn for Christmas, to accommodate all the people. It evolved into the novena tradition of holding an early morning Mass on each of the nine days before Christmas.

“Over 25 parishes in the Archdiocese will be celebrating Simbang Gabi,” said Monsignor Hermoso. “This is given to [us] to participate [in] the joys of Christmas…this is a great festivity”. 

For more information on Simbang Gabi and the Filipino community and for a complete Simbang Gabi Mass schedule, visit or contact Father Monsignor Seth Hermoso at

African American Catholics
“The ‘Kwanzaa’ celebration has not been around that long. However, more and more African Americans families are beginning to embrace and observe the celebration,” said Deacon Leonard Lockett, Vicar for Catholics of African Descent.

In 1966 during the struggle for civil rights, Dr. Maulana Karenga created the holiday of Kwanzaa modeled after African harvest festivals. 
Kwanzaa is a celebration of the African American people, culture and history; it is a time of gathering and reflection. Kwanzaa begins on Dec. 26 and continues throughout the period of Jan. 1. For many African American families, this celebration has become part of their familial Christmas tradition.

For a seven-day period, African American families celebrate this Christmas tradition by focusing on a single principle every day based on the foundation of Kwanzaa. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

For more information on the Ministry to Catholics of African Descent visit or contact Deacon Leonard Lockett at or 713-659-5461 ext. 4406.

Vietnamese Catholics
There are approximately 33,000 Vietnamese Catholics in the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston. According to Deacon Joseph Tran Van Nhat from the Community of St. Justin Martyr, “Vietnam is a missionary country, so its Christmas traditions are imported from the Western world, such as the ‘crèche’ [big nativity crib scene with nearly life size statues of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds and animals], Christmas trees, the French ‘réveillon’ (a meal after the midnight Mass) and a gift exchange with some variations.”

“After participating in the midnight Mass, the Vietnamese usually gather for a plentiful meal. Though its called ‘réveillon,’ foods are Vietnamese. The only food similar to [the] French is ‘bûche de Noël’ (a chocolate-cake in the shape of a log) for desert.”

For more information about the Vietnamese community within the Archdiocese contact Father John Kha Tran, Vicar for Vietnamese Catholics at 821-391-4758 or visit the Archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic Community Website at For a complete listing of Vietnamese parishes and communities visit

Hispanic Catholics
“Posadas were initiated in Mexico by Augustinian priests that were trying to evangelize and the posadas are celebrated during the last nine days leading up to Christmas, so essentially, they are a Christmas novena,” said Sergio A. Castillo, Archdiocesan Director of Hispanic Ministry.

“There are various ways to celebrate them, but [usually] a couple of children dress up as Mary and Joseph while the community accompanies them on their journey. The children reenact how Mary and Joseph [journeyed to Bethlehem], with Mary riding a donkey, and they will go knocking on various doors asking for lodging just prior to the birth of Christ, Finally, they arrive at a place that offers them lodging and the whole community enters singing,” said Castillo.

According to the Office of Hispanic Ministry, once inside, the community prays the rosary, eats traditional food such as: chocolate caliente (similar to hot chocolate), colación (a hot fruit punch), traditional candy for posadas, fruit, sugar cane, peanuts, pan dulce, (traditional Mexican sweet bread of all varieties).

The vision statement for Hispanic Catholics in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is “to be an agent of transformation for Hispanics promoting their fullest inclusion and participation in the Church and society.” 

For more information about the Hispanic community within the Archdiocese contact the Office of Hispanic Ministry at 713-741-8727 or e-mail . †