Parishes plan international Advent celebrations - Catholic Courier
St. Gregory Church in Marion celebrated Las Posadas in 2010. St. Gregory Church in Marion celebrated Las Posadas in 2010.

Parishes plan international Advent celebrations

Although they may be far removed from their homeland, local immigrants don’t leave their traditions behind during Advent and Christmas. Here are a few celebrations with international roots.

International Nativity scenes

Several area crèche festivals are featuring Nativity scenes from many nations, including Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, which will display crèches through Jan. 13, and Rochester’s St. Anne Parish, which will display them through Epiphany on Jan. 6.

Sonia Pospichal, international ministry coordinator for the cluster of St. Anne and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Brighton, said the cluster is home to people from more than 30 different countries and houses the St. George Lithuanian community and the St. Andrew Kim Korean Community.

This year’s display includes a crèche from Cameroon, an olive wood crèche and a carving of three figures from Zululand in South Africa. The display also will feature a framed depiction of the flight to Egypt that Father Gary Tyman brought back from a trip to Egypt, and a nativity from Pospichal’s collection made by artists in the Santons style from southern France.

Pospichal said she began collecting Nativity scenes more than 20 years ago after she was struck by the variety in a display of Nativity scenes from around the world.

Polish Wigilia

Polish parishioners in the diocese may kick off their Christmas celebrations with Wigilia, (pronounced like vigil), the Christmas Eve dinner that ends a day of fasting and abstinence.

The Polish Heritage Society of Rochester will host a Wigilia meal at 5 p.m. Dec. 8 at St. John Fisher College’s Cleary Auditorium in Kearney Hall. Reservations were due by Dec. 1. Visit for details.

"People would fast until the first star appeared," said Ralph Józefowicz, a society member who will emcee the annual dinner. Józefowicz also is a doctor and professor of neurology and medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The Wigilia meal features a meatless menu with an odd number of courses — often 13 to symbolize Christ and the Twelve Apostles. Pickled herring, beet borscht or mushroom soup, a fish such as carp or pike, pierogi dumplings, rice with apples, dried peas with sauerkraut, and a cabbage-based soup and a dried fruit compote are often on the menu.

The table also is set in a special way, Józefowicz noted. A table cloth of starched white linen represents Mary’s veil. Under the table cloth, hay is placed to represent the humble bed on which Christ slept. Pieces of hay would be pulled out from under the table cloth; a green blade meant prosperity while a blackened blade foretold bad luck.

"We have a tradition to set one extra place setting for any stranger who happens to be by or for the Christ child," Józefowicz said. "We have a saying that if there’s a stranger in the house it is God."

Before feasting, the group will ceremoniously break and share an unblessed wafer called an oplatek, which translates to an offering or oblation.

Józefowicz said caroling and Christmas trees also are major parts of the holiday, but they do not appear until Dec. 24. The Christmas celebrations continue for 40 day until Candlemas on Feb. 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. On Epiphany, priests bless parishioners’ homes and write the initials of the wise men and the date above the entry.

Filipino Simbang Gabi

Father Edison Tayag, a native of the Philippines and parochial vicar at Church of the Assumption in Fairport, said Filipinos celebrate pre-Christmas morning and evening Masses for the nine days before Christmas (Dec. 16-24).

In the Diocese of Rochester the evening Mass will be a one-day celebration at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, St. Anne Church, 1600 Mt. Hope Ave., Rochester. That evening Mass, called Simbang Gabi, will be in Tagalog and will feature an English Mass guide. It will be preceded at 6:30 by Filipino carols and followed by a reception from 8 to 9 p.m. with traditional Filipino desserts.

The morning Mass, called the Mass of the Rooster, is celebrated at 4 or 5 a.m. for the nine days before Christmas, and Father Tayag said that the Masses reflect the Philippines’ past as a Spanish colony. Father Tayag said he misses the festive atmosphere and faithful devotees of those Masses.

"I remember my sister waking me up very early in the morning," Father Tayag said. "It’s a strong devotion."

Another Filipino tradition is the placement of parol, or Christmas lanterns, which represent the star of Bethlehem.

"It is very common to see them hanging by the windows," Father Tayag said.

On Christmas Eve, families attend midnight Mass and then eat dinner; roasted pig, rice noodles and stews are commonly consumed, the priest noted.

Las Posadas

Among local Latinos, one of the major Advent celebrations is the Dec. 12 feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to St. Juan Diego on that day in 1531 in Mexico. The Immaculate Conception feast day, which is also the feast day of several other Marian apparitions, also is an important celebration on Dec. 8.

Nightly devotions, a sung rosary and the procession of an Our Lady of Guadalupe statue to parishioners’ homes in Geneva and Penn Yan at 7 p.m. Dec. 4-11 will lead up to the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day, said Sister of Mercy Kay Schwenzer, Hispanic pastoral minister for Yates, Ontario and Wayne counties.

"I think it also helps our community to be one, and to be more united in prayer," Sister Schwenzer said of the communal prayer in homes.

On the morning of Dec. 12, the Our Lady of Peace community in Geneva will host an early morning rosary and Las Mañanitas, (a sung morning greeting). They will come back together for Mass at 6 p.m. followed by food and music in the parish center, 110 Exchange St., Geneva.

Starting Sunday, Dec. 16, parishioners also will go house to house each night for Las Posadas, a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter before Jesus’ birth.

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