Filipinos can do without turkey for Christmas, but never without lechon, says restaurateur Marjorie Delco.

"We love our pork," Delco says.

"And Christmas dinner will not be a Christmas dinner in the Philippines without lechon."

The Philippines is one of two predominantly Christian countries in Asia, the other being East Timor.


It probably holds the unofficial record of having the world's longest Christmas season.

Christmas carolling starts as early as September there and the party goes on until the Feast of the Santo Nino on the third Sunday of January.

On Christmas Eve, families stay awake all night and this is accompanied by a midnight feast called noche buena.

"Families will lay out traditional Christmas foods like bibingka and chick galantina, and of course the lechon, with all kinds of sweets, desserts and drinks," Delco said.

"Noche buena is one big open house and an endless buffet where everybody and anybody can just drop in to wish Merry Christmas and eat."

Lechon is often presented whole and comes with a red apple in its mouth, she said.

Delco, who co-owns Auckland Filipino restaurant Boracay Gardens, is hoping to bring the spirt of a "Filipino Christmas fiesta" here.

On Christmas Day, the restaurant will host a buffet with a spread of traditional favourites including mixed pancit, paella valenciana and buko pandan.


"We want to create an atmosphere so our kababayan (fellow Filipinos) can have the kind of Christmas that they are used to having back home," Delco said.

Several members of breast cancer charity Sweet Louise were invited by the Herald to experience the Christmas fare.

Noralle Olive, 30, a property manager, who sampled a Filipino Christmas spread for the first time at the restaurant, said she was surprised to learn the cuisine had such strong Spanish influences.

History has it that the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines was also to spread Christianity over Islam.

The church, ran by prayles or friars, played a big part in shaping Filipino culture.

Lechon was often used at celebratory feasts because pork is forbidden to those who practice Islam.

"I can't go to the Philippines but it felt like they brought Boracay to me," Olive said.

"Delicious food, the meat and noodle dish were stand-out. Our journey to Boracay felt special and memories treasured."

The Philippines is the only Asian country with a large proportion of the population identifying as Christian - eight in 10 are Catholic.

In New Zealand there were 40,347 people who identified with the Filipino ethnic group at the last census.

More than half, or 20,502, lived in the Auckland Region and about 86 per cent were born overseas.

Most were Catholics on 72.6 per cent and about 10 per cent were Evangelical, Born Again, Fundamentalist and other Christians.