#SimbangGabi Begins. What It Means to Travellers in the Philippines?

church altar in golden-colour theme during Philippine's midnight mass or simbang gabi

Simbang Gabi (also called Midnight Mass or Misa de Gallo) is a holy mass in Roman Catholic churches that is held at dawn. It’s part of the Philippine Christmas tradition to attend this mass for 9 days before Christmas Day. The schedule for this one-hour mass depends on the church but some starts as early as 4 AM.

Being in a dominantly Roman Catholic country, the Filipinos make it a habit to wake up early beginning December 16 to attend this mass. While many do this for religious or spiritual reasons, some (especially little children) attend this celebration with the thought that their wish will be granted if they complete the 9 masses.

As for me, the only time I completed Simbang Gabi was last year, two weeks after my salary-maker shut its operations down (link). I guess that’s the Universe’s sign that I should at least complete the holy mass, which I gleefully did. Now that I’m still not officially employed, I am hoping to complete another round of these solemn hours again.

Sidenote: By the way, I am available if you need to hire a premium freelance writer.

But enough about the religious/spiritual stuff of Simbang Gabi. I am here to discuss how this early-morning event can affect (or not) you if you’re a foreigner staying in the Philippines (traveller or tourist) during this 9-day period before Christmas most especially if you’re staying near a Roman Catholic church. Who knows, you’ll be able to discover more about your newfound Filipino friends (or maybe not).

1 | No Empty Roads at Dawn = Lowers Chance to Walk Alone

Because the churches are packed during Simbang Gabi masses (some even overflows to the roads especially in smaller parishes), a lot of people start travelling to the church around 3 AM or so with the hope that they can grab a good seat in the church. This means that around this time (especially within an hour before the mass begins), the roads are packed with cars and public transport while the sidewalks are filled with people and families walking towards the nearest church.

What does this mean to you as a foreigner in the Philippines? Well, at least you now have peace of mind that you can walk home safely at these hours when you’re partying late at night. Whether you came from a bar (most of which closes around 2AM, I think) or from a Christmas event, you know you can go back to the hotel safely at dawn because the public areas are lively. You won’t be walking on dark roads alone.

Take note though that roads will again feel like normal while the mass is being offered. Don’t worry, they become lively again after the mass when people are homeward (around 6AM or so).

2 | Police Visibility is High = Increases Security and Safety Level

Due to the high number of people in one area, it’s common sense that local government should increase police visibility. Other local authorities (e.g. baranggay tanods and city medic teams) will also be available to ensure smooth flow (like traffic) and to handle emergency situations.

What does this mean to you? Have more confidence in public at dawn knowing that there are officers who, with their presence alone, can deter crimes.

3 | Presence of Pinoy Food Vendors = Boosts Chances to Taste Pinoy Delicacies

This is my favourite! I get to eat a lot of Pinoy food during this period than the rest of the year.

Just minutes before the mass ends (or maybe right after the mass ends if you don’t mind the crowd), visit a Roman Catholic church grounds and you’ll find a lot of vendors selling yummy Philippine delicacies like puto, kuchinta, budbod and others. Depending on where you are, you might have different varieties to choose from each day. So you might want to buy puto on the first day, budbod on the second, etc.

Bingka sa Mandaue
Bingka sa Mandaue, P35 per 3-pack; P100 (discounted) for these 3 packs of three
(Mandaue is a city in Cebu)

But like any other local vendors in Asia, be wary of those who ask for a higher price than normal especially if you don’t look like Filipino or at least Malay-looking Asian. You might also ask a Filipino friend to bring you some Pinoy delicacies when they get back from church.

Planning to Attend Simbang Gabi in Philippines?

If you’re a non-Filipino Roman Catholic travelling in the Philippines and want to attend one or all of the holy mass, here are some tips for you. Maybe some of these you know already or maybe some are new to you. I’m just placing these tips in random, just in case.

  • The language used in the mass is usually the vernacular.

    For example, if you’re in Cebu, everything will almost always be delivered in Cebuano. I’m not sure if there are churches using English in Midnight Masses, so you might want to check beforehand.

  • Check the Simbang Gabi schedule of the church you’re planning to be in.

    There will only be one Simbang Gabi per church, as far as I know. So you might also want to check the time the mass will begin. Consider arriving an hour or 30 minutes before the mass if you want to make sure to have a good seat inside the church.

  • Make sure to have breakfast.

    Especially when you’re planning to be inside the church, make sure to have a good breakfast to avoid dizzy spells especially when the place is hot and is packed with people. I’ve seen a lot of people collapsing to the ground because they haven’t eaten.

  • Have a good night sleep prior to the mass.

    This is also one of the reasons why people suddenly collapse on the floor, especially those standing along jampacked hallways or leaning on pillars. Some people even got shocked (and embarrassed) when they finally woke up to their senses knowing that they had just passed out.

  • Take a bath.

    Uhhm… Sorry if they may sound offensive but I don’t mean it to be. Well, I know some foreigners from “cold” countries who are used to not taking a bath because their climate back home won’t make them stink even without bathing for days.

    The Philippines is very different though, and sometimes, it’s hot here even if it’s what we call the “wet season”. Also, some guys just don’t know how strong their stinky smell is.

    With churches packed with people, it can even get hotter… which increases the stinky smell of those who haven’t taken a bath. You may not collapse, but other people will be.

  • Don’t wear strong perfume.

    What’s worse than someone who has not taken a bath in a hot place? People who splash (or spray) themselves with perfume without taking a real bath!

    Just as it’s not appropriate to wear perfume when riding a commercial plane, you shouldn’t consider dabbing on strong perfumes in a jampacked church. Take a full bath instead and wear some deodorant to be sure.

  • Bring your own seat, if you want.

    Because seats are limited and the attendees are many, people often bring their own seats (monoblock stools or little portable ones) so they have something to sit on just in case they have to stay through the corridors or outside the church. You can bring your own seats too if you can.

  • Don’t stand up quickly when you’re squatting or sitting close to the ground.

    You know these Roman Catholic masses have series of standing and sitting and kneeling. If you’re in a sitting position (and have been sitting close to the ground or squatting) and it’s time to stand up, stand up slowly. I’ve seen some people in churches who stood up quickly from the sitting position and then they suddenly passed out. I don’t know the scientific basis, but just be mindful of your body.

Do you have more tips to add? Share it to us through the comment box below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.