For Europeans and North Americans celebrating Christmas in Argentina might not be so different from how it is done at home given the European influence there is stronger than other South American countries.
CHRISTMAS EVE AND CHRISTMAS DAY
Christmas is the time when families and extended families get together and celebrate. After going to church it is time for everyone to head home so the eating and drinking can begin. Argentines tend to focus more on Christmas Eve and may well stay up late into the night and then often spend a lot of Christmas Day asleep! After having their big meal on the evening of the 24th they will toast at midnight and then the dancing, singing, opening presents and watching the fireworks commences.
Around 90% of the Argentine population are Roman Catholic so Christmas is a special time of year, for families and for devout Christians. Most Argentine families attend Christmas mass on the 24th and then return home afterwards for dinner and celebrations.
On Christmas day, religious services also take place. People go from house to house singing carols and often receive small gifts for their efforts!
The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. Remembering that the weather there is usually hot then it might be served outside in the garden. Dishes include roast turkey, roast pork, stuffed tomatoes and Christmas breads. The main dish may be a suckling pig or a roasted peacock. A favourite here is "Ninos envuettas", which is cut steak stuffed with minced meat mixed with onions, hard-boiled eggs and spices. The sweet things include mince pies and puddings like 'pan dulce' and panettone.
Dinner on Christmas Day is a bit different and due to the warm weather asados (barbecues) are normal as are picnics. Even if the meal is not an asado, you know that it will always feature some barbecued meat, after all this is Argentina!
The toast is usually a drink prepared with different kinds of fruit, cut into pieces, and mixed with juice and cider. After the midnight toast is when the festivities really begin.
These are usually placed under the tree and opened at midnight.
FIREWORKS AND GLOBOS
At midnight on Christmas Eve, the sound of fireworks can be heard across Argentina as they are a big part of the celebrations. A Christmas tradition unique to Argentina are globos. They are paper balloons which are lit from inside and then let loose to float away - creating a colourful night sky.
For the Christmas season homes and towns are decorated in beautiful colourful decorations – using lots of red, white, green and gold. Lights and flowers are found everywhere and wreaths are placed on the front door.
Christmas trees are often up and decorated by 8th December in time for the feast of the Annunciation (when Mary was told she was going to have baby Jesus). Although there isn’t any real snow, cotton balls are placed on the Christmas Tree to look like snow. It’s not just fir trees that are used but any kind can be turned into a Christmas tree. It is decorated with ornaments such as baubles, figures, candles, small gifts and lights as well as more indigenous style decorations. At the top of the trees sits a Father Christmas and the presents are placed underneath.
THE NATIVITY SCENE (PESEBRE)
One of the most important Christmas decorations in Argentina is the Nativity scene or 'pesebre'. This is placed near to the Christmas tree along with the presents. You will quite often find a crèche scene set up complete with Christ’s manger.
JANUARY 6TH / THREE KINGS DAY
The festivities do not end on Christmas Day and keep going through to Three Kings Day on January 6th when children receive presents. The custom is for children to leave their shoes out the night before in order to be filled with gifts. They also may leave hay and water for the Magi’s horses as once upon a time they would have needed it on their way to Bethlehem. Nowadays children also leave their shoes underneath the Christmas tree.
Sound like a tempting place to spend Christmas? Why not spend it on an Argentinian estancia where you will really enjoy the spirit of the season – lots of food, drink and festivities. Have a look at www.historichaciendas.com for some ideas of where to stay.
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