“15 pigs , that was my order.”

The only evidence that anything occurred were the successive rows of gray ash smudged into the roasting pit.

Joachim was talking about lechón, a traditional dish of roasted pig that’s served for special occasions.

December 8 in Bohol marks the fiesta of the Immaculate Conception. This kind of fiesta is not of the Spanish variety. The names may be similar, but the rituals have distinct differences.

The pig roasting pit

Credit goes to the Spanish for introducing Catholicism to the Philippines from the moment of colonial rule from 1521 to 1898.

The Philippines has the largest Catholic worshippers in Southeast Aisa, alongside East Timor.

On December 8, households in Bohol decorate their sitting rooms, set up large dining tables and cook all night to mark the Virgin Mary’s ascent from original sin.

Some locals enjoying fiesta

I found myself outside Joachim’s home by invitation only. The unending benefits of staying with my friend, Anna are precisely opportunities like this. It’s doubtful a hostel stay would have produced a fiesta on my lap.

Joachim’s was the last house on the fiesta rounds.

The first house was nestled deep in the Barangay of Baclayon. The ruddy paved roads and dirt ditches were crawling with cars all intent on partaking in the festivities.

We parked Anna’s motorbike in a patch of grass. The gate surrounding the house didn’t seem fit for protection, with its thin slats spaced far apart, like gaps in a set of teeth, perhaps it was merely to denote a property line.

Some fellas in on first stop full and happy

A house made of cement blocks was the opening scene of my first fiesta. The bungalow style with an A-frame roof brought back memories of home, houses of that nature were popular in Canada during the 60’s.

A mix of young and old mulled around the front and side. We entered by the side patio, slipping off sandals, adding them to a growing pile of flip-flops.

It felt like the entire neighborhood was there.

The smell of oily pork filtered throughout the house as we walked inside.

Food for the Immaculate Conception

The dining table was resplendent with pork and chicken dishes, pancit bihon, lumpia, salads and rice. We dug in with relish and sat around the mismatched chairs taken from bedrooms and back kitchens.

When we talked to the hostess, she admitted to not knowing everyone in the room.

Such is the nature of the fiesta, no bullfights or fireworks, in Bohol, the emphasis is on community ties.

All are welcome and no one is turned away. Stranger, friend, cousin, husband, child.

Our generous hostess

And the focus is on sharing a meal, indulging is another way to celebrate.

Wandering from house to house can go all day. And so it went, we explored another house, until we finished the day at Joachim’s.

I might have been charmed by his nipa style home, or maybe it was bearing witness to the unknowable. Sturdy bamboo walls surrounded us when I encountered my first lechón.

Lechón is already demolished

I wield a strong stomach for a vegetarian, since I was weaned on Alberta beef, so the sight of an entire pig was more fascinating than offensive.

An absurd amount of food weighed down the table, along with the lechón. Supposedly lechón skin is crispy, but melts in the mouth.

That’s where I found myself talking about 15 pigs. Joachim buys pigs by the kilogram, roasts them in a pit in his yard and sells them to families for such occasions. Somehow, he delivered 15 pigs to families in the area.

Nipa style house

A lechón can cost a family 4,000 to 5,000 pesos, a costly addition, when the average Philippine person earns 150 pesos a day.

That is a testament to their religion and commitment to kinship, some things are worth sacrificing for. I began to understand why Bohol is called “God’s Little Paradise”. Religious ritual connects more than sinners and saints, it can bring humans together in harmony, even moments of joy.

My friend, Anna, lechon crazy

Joachim observed when I spotted a trio of young people lounging on a picnic table and drinking in his yard.

“Do ya want some Tanduay?” He shot me a toothless grin.

I smiled back.

For a full listing of the fiestas in Bohol, check out the calendar here: www.bohol.ph.