Christmas day is just a few days away but there’s something else taking place before then. If you grew up in a Catholic household, you’ve probably participated in simbang gabi in some way. This is a Filipino tradition, which is a novena in the form of a mass, there are nine in total. It starts on Dec. 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. These are dawn masses so they can start at early as 4 a.m. Growing up, this is a tradition that I practiced with my family. Because I have completed so many of these in different churches, I’ve seen the types of people who attend simbang gabi. Before it starts in a few days, read through this story and see if you can spot these people.
The sleeping children are so easy to spot. They’re either nodding off in their seat or catching some Z’s while their parents carry them. I used to be one of these children. My family is pretty religious so the kids would go to simbang gabi too even if we were asleep the whole time.
The ones who want to make a wish at the end
In case you didn’t know, one of the beliefs is that at the end of the novena, you get to make a wish. If you miss even just one day, that doesn’t count. Of course, most people are skeptical about this and don’t believe it but it acts like an extra incentive for finishing all nine days. Some people find it fun too.
The ones who came straight from an all-nighter
Look around the church and you will see the people who haven’t gotten any shuteye yet. These are the ones who lost track of time, like teenagers who decided to pull an all-nighter before heading to morning mass. You’ll see them nod off from time to time but they try their best to stay awake.
The active church members
You know who these people are. They’re part of the choir or are in charge of the offertory bags. They’re at the church everyday of simbang gabi and are probably earlier than everyone else. They come from different circles too. Some of them can be kids or older ones who have been with the church community for years.
No matter which church you go to, you are bound to come across lots of grandmothers. Maybe it’s a group of them or one joined by her family. They’re also probably the most awake because they’re used to starting the day that early.
The ones who are there for the morning bibingka
For one of the churches I went to, there was a stall outside selling bibingka early in the morning. They start early to catch the simbang gabi rush. When the mass ends, some people will rush outside to be first in line. Are you one of them?
I would consider my mom as one of the pros. These are the people who have been attending the Christmas masses for years and always complete them with struggle. They know all the mass schedules, what time to wake up, and where to head after for some coffee and snacks.
Art by Marian Hukom
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