In Cebu, Christmas is a half-year celebration. It starts from September, becomes lively with fancy parties from December, and lasts until February. People try to "enjoy life, rather than to grieve," so practically, there is no Advent abstinence.1 Towns are filled with Christmas tunes and smiles.
Food is a must for these joyful gatherings (and actually, also for official negotiations, academic conferences, and funeral parades). As one of the biggest celebrations of the year, along with Sinulog and Easter, the Noche Buena (Christmas mid-night) dinner must be special.2
On Christmas Eve, 2002, I was invited to a friend's house in Cebu City. My friend flew back from Hong Kong, her sister from Manila, and her father from Leyte -just for Christmas. It was a heart-warming family season.
We started snacking in the evening, leaving some energy (to eat) for the midnight. The most eye-catching food was the pre-ordered lechon-baboy, or "roasted whole-pig." This festive food is proudly displayed on many party tables. Lechon is a nationwide feast, throughout the year.3
I was told by many Cebuanos that "Tagalogs don't know how to cook lechon. Lechon Cebuano is the best". . Cebuanos put herbs and salt in the emptied stomach of the raw meat (at that point it can still be called the carcass of the pig, with the entire head, legs and fresh-pink skin). As a result, the pork becomes flavorful after several hours of roasting. "But lechon Tagalog is simply grilled. The meat itself has no taste, so they have to prepare a gravy," say the Cebuanos. They say this even though not all of them actually have been to Manila and eaten lechon Tagalog. Maybe this is a part of "local identity building" in opposition to Manila-centered "Filipino culture".4