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“Simbang gabi na naman, tayo gising na, patulog pa lang ang buwan”

Listen to Ben&Ben’s “Bibingka” any other time of the year, and it’s one of those romantic love songs you’ll have on Spotify on repeat. But come December, it becomes one of the sweetest Christmas songs ever.

For nine nights (or is it mornings?) in a row, people gather at the nearest church to celebrate the dawn masses, a tradition that goes way back in history – and upon completing all nine, one has the chance to make a special Christmas wish.

If you’ve ever attended a dawn mass, or the Misa de Gallo/Simbang Gabi as it’s commonly known, you’ll meet all sorts of people. In a way it feels like a Christmas Party for the whole barangay. The only things missing are the parlor games where the prize is 50 pesos.

Mostly it’s teenagers you’ll find at Simbang Gabi, usually the sweet couples as depicted in Bibingka. Other times its multiple barkadas chatting outside the church doors, all decked out in sweaters and jogging pants because of the cool morning air (or trying to impress another group standing nearby).

Families also enjoy attending the masses, especially those with small children. You’ll see the kids dressed in their Sunday best – even if it’s probably the middle of the week – their eyes drooping, still yearning for more sleep. Old couples suddenly feel younger as they sing their hearts out with the choir.

For a majority of the mass everyone keeps to themselves, but every once in a while they look at the people nearby, give a little nod or grin and greet “Merry Christmas.” Even the children can’t help but smile at other kids looking more tired than they are. At the end, the choir sings chants like “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit” or “Pasko Na Naman,” as if listening to carolers going from house to house.

From there, if people aren’t going to McDonald’s for breakfast, you’ll find them crowded around a taho seller, just waiting for their turn for the morning treat. If not, they’ll probably be buying bibingka just like Ben & Ben said. All those people lining up brings to mind your cousins preparing for noche buena.

Days feel really long, especially in December, but for at least an hour you get to see all these different people gather together just to celebrate Christmas as a community, for nine days in succession. There’s nothing that speaks more to Filipinos during Christmas than togetherness, and Simbang Gabi is a great example of that.

So the next time you hear Bibingka, and the angels are singing along to the morning breeze, be reminded of the wonderful Christmas tradition that is Simbang Gabi, a timeless event that will bring people together to celebrate the happiest – and no doubt the loveliest – day of the year.

Illustration by Madel Crudo

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