In some respects, Christmas in Argentina doesn’t look like Christmas, at least to people from the United States. Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means the seasons are reversed, with summer starting in December. Consequently, Argentina is not the place to go for a white Christmas. Christmas weather in Argentina is more conducive to a trip to the beach than to building a snowman.
But that doesn’t mean the Argentinean people don’t celebrate Christmas and celebrate it with enthusiasm. Over 90% of the population of Argentina is Catholic or some other Christian denomination, so Christmas is a holiday of great importance. Many distinctive Christmas traditions have developed over the years in Argentina.
A higher percentage of Argentinean households put up decorations for Christmas than in most countries, and earlier than in most countries. By early December if not sooner, the majority of houses have lights and flowers adorning their exterior, while on the inside there are red and white garlands, and elaborate wreaths of green, gold, red and white flowers.
Like in the United States and many countries, a key component of the holiday decorations for most Argentinean families is a Christmas tree. Both real and artificial trees are common. They are trimmed with ornaments, lace, lights, candles, small gifts, and Papa Noël (like Santa Claus) figurines. Often cotton balls are used on the ends of branches to represent snow.
It’s interesting that Christmas would be associated with snow at all, given that it happens during the summer, but no doubt much of what is customary at Christmas is a carryover from earlier generations in Europe in the Northern Hemisphere, which is where most Argentineans came from.
Often added to the Christmas decorations is a Nativity scene, called a “pesebre,” set up near the Christmas tree, showing baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph and the three wise men.
Throughout December, children write letters to Papa Noël. This is similar to the tradition in the United States for children to write to Santa Claus, but different from most Latin American countries where if kids write such letters at all, it is to baby Jesus.
The primary celebration of Christmas in Argentina takes place over the two days of Christmas Eve and Christmas.
People gather together with their extended family on December 24, often at the grandparents’ house. Sometimes people move from house to house visiting different family and friends. Caroling is common, either at home together, or going door to door with a group.
Many people-though not as many as in the past-attend Christmas services at church on the 24th or 25th, or at midnight mass in between.
Food is certainly a big part of the festivities starting on the 24th. Potluck style is common. Since it is summer, often people eat the holiday meal outside in the garden. Sometimes the meal is a barbecue.
A Christmas meal might include such items as roast pork, turkey, roast peacock, steak, tongue, stuffed tomatoes, mince pies, bread, Waldorf or Russian salad, and pudding. Champagne is a common Christmas drink, as is a punch prepared from fruit cut into juice or cider (called “sidra”).
Children play with fireworks on Christmas Eve, including “globos,” which are colored paper balloons that fly up into the sky when lit. At midnight, the fireworks reach their cacophonous peak, like Americans ringing in the New Year with fireworks at midnight.
Christmas gifts are placed under the Christmas tree. After midnight, they are opened.
Christmas Eve can be a party night for some young adults, as they go out after midnight and stay out much or all of the night.
There is more good food and family time the next day on Christmas itself, and religious services for those inclined.
Actually the bulk of the presents for children are held back until January 6-“Three Kings Day.” Before they go to bed on the 5th, Argentinean children place their shoes outside, under the Christmas tree, or under the bed, so that the Magi will put presents in and around them. They also leave fresh hay and water outside for the horses of the Magi on their way to Bethlehem.
“Christmas in Argentina.” Christmas Carnivals.
“Christmas in Argentina.” Hispanic Culture Online.
“Christmas in Argentina.” The Holiday Spot.