Christmas in Argentina means food, family, and a big holiday party!
But first, an introduction: if you love learning about new cultures, then you’ve come to the right place.
Here at ReDefiners World Languages, we celebrate every culture around the globe. Each nation has beautiful traditions, wonderful people, and a unique language or dialect. All of these factors build a national identity, a special character. Our mission is to foster understanding, appreciation, and interest in world cultures through language. We believe that language is the ticket to global citizenship, and we strive to provide equal-opportunity language courses to children and adults of all levels.
In the spirit of global citizenship, let’s take a look at Christmas in Argentina. This article will be your complete guide to Argentinian Christmas Traditions. We will cover
Argentinian Christmas Foods and Drinks
Popular Argentinian Christmas Traditions
How Christmas in Argentina Differs from the Rest of the World
Argentinian Christmas Food and Drinks
Christmas in Argentina is full of wonderful and exciting traditions. However, if you’re used to snowball fights, cozy nights by the fireplace, and dancing sugar plums then prepare to be surprised. This isn’t your typical Silent Night.
An Argentinian Christmas feast is the capstone of the holiday. First, Christmas celebrations in Argentina start on Christmas Eve, which is December 24th. Argentinians are known to be late-starters in general, but on Christmas Eve, the festivities begin relatively early by their standards.
Around 6 or 7pm, Merienda is served. This afternoon snack resembles tea time in England; however, on Christmas Eve in Argentina, expect to find a lot more food.
Most Argentinians will drink a popular beverage known as Mate. Mate is a caffeine-rich fusion made by soaking dry yerba mate leaves in hot water. It is typically drunk out of a calabash gourd using a metal straw. They pair this with cookies or Pan Dulce, which translates literally to “sweet bread.”
Next, cold beer is served with Zeppoles (Italian pastry) or Picada, which is a big tray or cutting board filled with cheese, meats, olives, fruits, nuts, and leftovers. Everyone is encouraged to pick out whatever bites they want!
A particularly tasty Picada dish is Heart of Palms rolled in Prosciutto Crudo. Often shortened to just Prosciutto in English, Prosciutto Crudo is an Italian uncooked, unsmoked, and dry-cured ham. This meal is a favorite, especially among Argentines of Italian heritage.
After that, around 10pm, it is time for dinner. See, we called it a feast for a reason.
Christmas dinners usually include a meat-based entrée like pork or turkey. At a Christmas meal in Argentina, one might expect to find something like “Vitel Thoné.” This Italian dish is served only during the holidays and is made of veal slices topped with tuna and anchovy sauce.
Other traditional Argentine dishes you might see around Christmas time are cold foods served warm such as Russian salads and cold cuts.
If those meals don’t tickle your taste buds, then head down the street to an Asado, which is both a barbecuing technique and the social event of hosting or attending a barbecue. At this large meal, you’ll find beef, pork, chicken, chorizo, and morcilla cooking on a grill called a parrilla, or an open fire. Generally, the meats are accompanied by red wine and salads. A person designated as the “asador” or “parrillero” is in charge of preparing the meat. After the food is served, everyone says: “Un aplauso para el asador” (Applause for the grill chef).
Chocolate and sweet bites are a must on Christmas. A famous sweet treat is “Mantecol,” which is the brand name of a typical dessert bar made in Argentina. It is a semi-soft nougat made from peanut butter. Other kinds of chocolates are dished out in generous amounts.
Finally, at 12am on Christmas morning, the toast is given. Then, children run to the Christmas trees to open gifts, and the drinking and snacking can continue for another three to four hours.
The next day, everyone is stuffed, but there’s still room for leftovers, lunch, and even dinner for some families!
Popular Argentinian Christmas Traditions
Like in every country that observes Christmas, no two people celebrate the same way. However, there are a few traditions that are common all over Argentina, and the following list is especially true for Buenos Aires. We’ve already covered the main staple of an Argentinian Christmas, the Christmas feast, so now let’s check out some other popular traditions.
Family is very important in Argentine culture, and even more so during Christmas. On Christmas Eve, you’ll see entire Argentinian families – mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and even family you’ve never met – gathered together and eating at long tables outdoors. Remember, Argentina is located in the Southern hemisphere where the summer season is from December through March, so they prefer to spend time outside rather than indoors.
For Argentinians, Christmas is a time to reconnect and celebrate those relations. Their deep Italian and Spanish roots could be the reason for this.
After partying all night with family, it is not uncommon for the younger generations to hit the town after the toast. They’ll go to clubs and other party locations to spend time with friends and enjoy themselves during the holiday. These festivities can last deep into the next morning.
Older generations are less likely to go out, but they enjoy their fair share of fun too. During the family dinner, the beer flows freely, and they certainly partake in the holiday spirit.
Argentina used to be known for its dazzling Christmas fireworks displays; however, they have grown less popular in recent years. There are a few shows in Buenos Aires, but not many. Most fireworks you see around the city are put on by individuals who host their own displays in the streets.
The decline in interest is due to the recent awareness about the impact of fireworks on people with ASD, PTSD, and animals. Even people who do enjoy fireworks do so on New Year's rather than Christmas.
Christmas music in Argentina is not what you’d expect. Most people listen to Cumbia, Reggeaton, and similar genres instead of traditional Christmas music. Of course, this isn’t true for all Argentines. Christmas carols, translated into Spanish, like Jingle Bells, are popular. Also, you can occasionally hear Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano humming along in supermarkets and malls. Other songs to be on the lookout for are Blanca Navidad (White Christmas), Campana de Belén, and El Burrito Sabanero (The Little Donkey from Savannah).
How An Argentine Christmas is Different from the Rest of the World
As you may have noticed, an Argentinian Christmas has several differences compared to the other Christmas celebrations around the globe.
First, an Argentine Christmas is framed more as a party rather than an intimate gathering. You’re more likely to find huge tables set out by the swimming pool rather than a quiet dinner indoors, and while family is important, the focus is set squarely on the festivities.
Second, like many Latin American countries, Argentina adheres predominantly to the Roman Catholic faith. Some individuals will attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which is known as La Misa Del Gallo (Rooster Mass). The name for this event comes from the Latin phrase “ad galli cantus,” meaning “the crow of a rooster.” It’s a symbolic phrase given to the moment when a new day begins, according to ancient Roman traditions.
However, most people don’t attend mass on this day. For those who do, they prefer to schedule it at 8pm or earlier so that they don’t miss the celebrations.
Third, Argentinian Christmas food is high in calories, resembling a hearty European winter meal as opposed to the typical food eaten on a hot South American summer night. Capping the night with a toast and gifts is also uniquely Argentinian.
Where You Can Learn More
If you enjoyed learning about Christmas in Argentina, then consider checking our other cultural highlights on the ReDefiners World Languages blog!
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