Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Simbang Gabi

December 16. It's the first day of Simbang Gabi, and my husband and I made it to church on time! This, our annual tradition of going to mass for nine consecutive days before Christmas, is something we had been doing for the past ten years. Joining everyone else who wakes up before dawn to get to church at half past four only to find out it's standing room only was never on our list-of-things-to-do during the holidays. My mother and my sister religiously practiced this ritual and I used to wonder what prodded them to consistently go to church at such an ungodly hour. It was just not for me! Nor was it for my husband. We would much rather enjoy the comfort of our warm bed on a cold December morning, thank you.

Yet, after moving to a village where people brought missals to church, celebrated feasts of the Blessed Mother at the park practically every month, had elaborate rituals during Lent, and prayed incessantly so we would finally have children, my husband and I found ourselves deeply involved in church and surprisingly, enjoying it. On that first year, without any prodding from our normally zealous neighbors, we decided to attend the pre-dawn mass. Afterall, it was simultaneously celebrated in three areas of the village - the main church, the multi-purpose hall near the gate, and the school gym right across the house where we lived. Oh, and in the smaller church where we had gotten married, just outside the village. Obviously, God had His bases covered. We simply had no excuse not to try it.

I remember our very first morning. We went to the huge main church and found it filled to the rafters! The excitement was palpable. The cool December air, the angels hanging by the columns between the doors, lights everywhere, and the choir practicing at the loft, made me think about how the shepherds might have felt the night Jesus was born . It was definitely a Hallelujah moment.

That was not my first time to go to Simbang Gabi. I had gone many years ago but had never completed it and never felt the way I did that particular morning when I went with my husband. It was his first time. What a joy to watch him take it all in like a child given a glimpse of heaven. On that first year, we completed all nine days. If you do, tradition has it that whatever you pray for will come true. While I didn't particularly subscribe to that belief then, I remember praying for a baby... and actually believing that prayer would be answered.

Needless to say, the Simbang Gabi became our ritual as a couple and somehow, our Christmas is not just complete without it. There were years we finished all nine days, there were some when one or both of us couldn't make it on certain days, and there were also times I questioned why we were doing it...but we tried every year anyway.

We live in another village now where traditions, if there are any, are completely unknown to us. So we still go to our old parish where our friends are, where the priest knows our children and where the recycled angels hanging overhead are comfortably familiar. On this first day, as the Gospel is read, I look at my husband. He is no longer in awe. He sings, he participates, he communes, and it occurs to me that he and I are finally one with God. And Simbang Gabi, without my knowing it, has become a part of us. I smile contentedly even if I'm just half-listening to the sermon. Then I think of our children and pray that this Christmas tradition will be a part of their lives someday.

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