This Advent and Christmas, parishes across the Archdiocese of Melbourne are alive and bustling with community events. From Christmas carols to serving the poor, a great way to enter meaningfully into this season is to participate in the many local and wider community festivities taking place.
Here are just some of the things happening across the Archdiocese in December. The list is by no means exhaustive.
A proud Filipino tradition known as ‘Simbang Gabi’ has quite the following here in Melbourne—and not just by Filipinos! Literally translated to ‘Night Mass’, this tradition is a nine-day novena of dawn Masses celebrated in the lead-up to Christmas.
This year, St Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Hoppers Crossing is holding Simbang Gabi for the 28th consecutive year, from 16 to 24 December. Parish Priest Fr Vincent John says it was introduced by the parish’s Filipino community all those years ago, and has grown to be something people from every cultural community take part in.
Fr Vincent says people come from all over the city for these 5am Masses, including big families with young children. Every year, Simbang Gabi attracts anywhere between 300 and 500 people.
Following Mass each day, breakfast is organised and sponsored by a different cultural community.
Other parishes with Simbang Gabi from 16 to 24 December (unless specified otherwise) include:
St Mary of the Angels Basilica, Geelong, will be hosting its Christmas carols event on Sunday 10 December. The St Mary's community have been doing this since 2019, and Rebecca Hay, Music and Liturgy Coordinator for the parish, says the inaugural event attracted 300 people.
Running from 2pm to 4pm, the carols will include gift stalls, face painting, a coffee van and a raffle. A special ‘carols choir’ will be featured at the event, formed from the basilica's 9.30am and 11am choirs. The ‘Junior Choir’, which has been running for 20 years, has also been a highlight in previous years, Ms Hay says, with current and past Junior Choir members coming together for the carols.
‘We do hope that people from the interfaith communities come as well, for anyone who wants to get in the spirit of things,’ she says. ‘What we’ve been trying to build back up since COVID is the social life of the parish, and people love coming and being part of the community. And they love that it’s the local choirs.’
Other Christmas Carols include ‘Carols by Candlelight’ hosted by St Catherine of Siena Parish in Caroline Springs on Sunday 10 December from 5pm, which includes a sausage sizzle, face painting, a piety stall and a raffle.
In Sunbury, at St Anne’s Catholic Church, there will also be an ecumenical carols event. The Combined Churches of Sunbury Inc. organise several events throughout the year, and one of them is the Churches Festival of Lessons and Carols. This year it will be on Sunday 17 December at 7pm.
An important part of the season is its invitation to do what we can for those who do not have a family or home around Christmas. Pitching in to assist, or inviting people we know to attend Christmas celebrations, is a great, practical way to share the love of Christ. From Christmas lunches to Christmas gifts, there’s plenty happening in the Archdiocese.
In Gladstone Park Parish, the Church of the Good Shepherd and St Carlo Borromeo are once again partnering with Victorian Police to distribute gifts to families in the community and surrounding suburbs who are vulnerable and less fortunate. On the Christmas trees at both churches there are tags people can take specifying the age and gender of someone they can buy a gift for. The 2022 ‘Christmas Gifts’ campaign was a resounding success, with lots of great feedback from the local communities.
The Church of the Good Shepherd in Gladstone Park will also be hosting a Christmas lunch on 25 December at midday. This lunch is free and can be attended by anyone, whether they feel lonely at this time of the year or just don’t have the capacity to prepare their own Christmas meal. Whatever the case, the invitation is open. The parish just asks people to RSVP by 15 December. You can contact the parish office for more information.
A fixture of community life at St Mark’s Catholic Church in Fawkner is Hope Cafe. Every Thursday night through the year, a team of volunteers provides a safe, welcoming space, and free meals for those who need it. They also partner with Orange Sky so that people can get their laundry done while enjoying a hot, three-course meal. Fr Colin Xavier, Parish Priest at St Mark’s, says the cafe is celebrating its 13th year next year. It was started by Fr Paul Newton in 2011 with the aim of ‘reaching out to the poor, down-trodden, destitute, homeless and the lonely.’
‘Christmas is an extra-special time because it is about family,’ Fr Colin says, so they are going all out and planning a jumping castle, petting zoo and slushy machine, since Christmas always attracts bigger crowds of guests.
This year, Hope Cafe will be serving their Christmas lunch on Thursday 21 December at 5.30pm.
Tony’s Cafe at St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Glen Huntley will also be offering a three-course Christmas lunch on 25 December this year. Due to the rise in COVID cases, this year it will be takeaway only, from midday to 1.30pm. If you would like to attend or volunteer, more information can be found here.
Also, if you know any young adults who want to get connected, St Benedict’s in Burwood will be hosting a Christmas picnic on Sunday 10 December at 10am. If you are aged 18–30, feel free to register and join in the holiday cheer at Wattle Park on Riversdale Road, Burwood.
To help people prepare spiritually for Christmas, St Scholastica’s in Bennetswood will also be hosting a ‘Mercy Night’, an evening of worship and reconciliation on Thursday 14 December at 7pm. A number of priests will be available on the night for the sacrament of Confession.
Finally, if you would like to see the Australian Nativity Scene (ANS), widely regarded as Australia’s biggest and best traditional nativity scene, it is open for viewing at St Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Dandenong North from 4 December 2023 to 12 January 2024.