The sun is shining, temperatures are in the high 30s, and there is a heavy humidity that challenges your inner strength. Not exactly what most North Americans are used to during Christmas holidays. However, this is the feeling of Christmas in Argentina, a far different experience than you´ll have in the northern hemisphere. And it´s not just the weather that´s different. Although Christmas is an important holiday, it is not accompanied by the same level of commercialism, nor is it welcomed with the same anticipation. The Argentines have many of their own traditions, but have also started adopting many North American traditions.
Christmas season kicks off on the 8th of December, the day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Maria. Although not much is done on this day (especially for the non-practicing Catholics), it is a public holiday throughout Argentina. In the succeeding days leading up to Christmas are pretty relaxed, and most of the population is working (and sweating) just like during any other summer month. Stores are noticeably busier, but you won´t find anything akin to the shopping hoards that invade the stores of the north from black Friday onwards.
There are very few businesses or public areas that put up more than a few decorations, nor is there much Christmas music, which you will only hear in a the shopping malls and a few stores (although more and more seem to jump on the bandwagon each year). The tradition of carolers or families getting together around the fire to sing O Christmas tree is non-existent in Argentina. Families are more likely to be planning their summer holidays to the coast than be singing about the birth of the Christ child.
The tradition of bringing your children to visit jolly St. Nick at the mall has started to spread widely in Argentina. Here, Santa Clause is known as Papa Noel, and looks just like he does in New York, Toronto, and Atlanta. He still comes from the North Pole (even though the south is closer) and has elves and reindeer. Of course, why would Santa change, since there is only one real Santa?
Christmas truly arrives on December 24th, which is the big day in Argentina. The 24th is not a public holiday, but many companies will close and give their employees a day off. In the evening, extended families get together and begin the festivities with a huge feast. Being Argentina, this often involves an asado (though not always), but there are also many other dishes that are eaten for Christmas dinner. Some traditional Argentine Christmas dishes include:
Pionono (thin pastry rolled up with tuna salad), Russian salad (potatoes, carrots, peas and mayo), Roasted Chicken, Waldorf Salad, Stuffed Tomatoes, Beef and Chicken Matambre (cold meat rolled up with egg, pepper, ham, and other items), Vitel Thone (slices of beef with a creamy sauce on top).
This feast is often washed down by pop, wine, champagne, sparkling cider, and beer; note that there is no such thing as eggnog, nor do they drink the usual hot beverages such as hot apple cider, hot chocolate, or spiced wine. Of course, what can you expect, given the stifling temperatures.
After dinner comes dessert, which some families will start eating right after dinner, and others will wait until after midnight. Common desserts include pan dulce (Argentine panettone, same as the Italian bread), turrón (type of nougat), candied peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, chocolates, and ice cream.
Midnight is when Santa stops by and leaves the presents, so the children have to be distracted while someone places the presents under the tree. The family will then take turns opening gifts while eating more sweets. It is also very common to set off fireworks at midnight and to toast with champagne and cider. The families that don´t have fireworks will often sit and watch as other fireworks go off nearby. This is followed by more visiting (and partying for some), and eventually bedtime.
December 25th tends to be a very quiet day for most Argentines. Families may get together again, and will usually eat leftovers. It is a quiet, relaxing family day for most, and is a public holiday.
The only other day that is Christmas related is January 6th which is mainly celebrated in Argentina by families with small children (it is not a public holiday). This is the day the three kings visited Jesus with gifts, and in Argentina, the children put grass and water in their shoes on the evening of Jan. 5th (for the camels) and on Jan. 6, they should find little presents beside their shoes.
This ends the Christmas and New Year´s celebrations, and mean it’s time for summer holidays.
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