5 Tips on Surviving Simbang Gabi

Anticipating getting up at 3am for the next two weeks for Christmas mass? Here are some guidelines to help you get to church on time.

By Yvette Tan
December 12, 2011

It's that time of the year again, when the air is a little colder (but not, as I'm sure you've heard, as cold as when your parents were young), when Christmas songs begin to take on a little meaning, and when thoughts (ideally) turn to the meaning behind the season, mostly via Simbang Gabi.

Photo by Alaric Yanos courtesy of the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte

Simbang Gabi, or midnight mass, starts on Dec 16 and ends on the 24th, the last mass being called Misa de Gallo. It is a nine day novena that, for many Filipinos, mean not just waking up early to hear the Word of God, but also things associated with the Christmas season such as meeting friends and eating freshly cooked bibingka and puto bumbong for breakfast after.

Waking up at 3am to catch the 5am mass for nine days straight is no easy feat, especially for folks who are used to going to sleep around that time. But with a little planning, a little preparation, getting up for midnight mass can be painless─or at least, not as painful. The key is to think of it as a party or a flight, and prepare accordingly.

Just to be clear, we aren't equating Simbang Gabi with either a party or a flight. It's just that some of the preparations for the former can be used to help with the latter.

Here are five tips to get you started:

Get enough sleep. This is stating the obvious, but you wouldn't believe how tempting it is to stay up the whole night and go straight to mass instead of getting a little shut-eye. Do not do this. Not only will the likelihood of you falling asleep at mass be greater but over time, the lack of sleep will take its toll, resulting in stress, irritation, and worst of all, wrinkles. You can stay up all night for an early flight, assuming you intend to get some shut-eye on the plane. You can't do the same for mass, where you are expected to stay awake.

Photo by KC Castillo

Eat or drink something. Yes, breakfast after mass is part of the Simbang Gabi experience. But what's the point of going to mass if you're going to feel faint all throughout, or if you're going to be easily distracted by the random food smells during the homily? Make sure you have something in your stomach, be it a pan de sal or a hot drink, before heading out to curb your hunger pangs before it's time to partake of the bibingka. You don't go to parties famished. You should apply the same behaviour to mass.

Cover up. Proper church attire and global warming notwithstanding, it can still get chilly in the morning, so a cover-up is a must. Even if you're not the type to feel cold, take a scarf or a jacket with you anyway. You never know, the apple of your eye might have forgotten his or hers, giving you the opportunity to lend him or her yours.

Be punctual. Just as with a flight, come early so that you get to pick your seat. We're not going to tell you which spot is the best (that is totally up to you), but by arriving early, you get first pick, and are able to settle down, reflect, and get comfortable before the mass begins.

Be quiet. Don't be like those people who insist on blaring their radios or cellphone playlists while in the airport before boarding or on the plane while waiting for takeoff. Don't also be one of those groups of people who talk loudly, giving everyone no choice but to overhear their conversation. Applied to the Simbang Gabi scenario, both are rude to other people, even when done before or after mass (lets not even begin to talk about those who do it while mass is ongoing!), and are both considered noise pollution. Everyone is there to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, not to sing along with you to Rhianna.

Here's a bonus: Enjoy. The season is all about the birth of Christ, after all, and what's a birthday celebration without a party? Pass the puto bumbong.