Many people have asked us how we celebrate Xmas in Argentina and what are our traditions... we tell you everything about it!
As you may have figured by now, Christmas falls in summer in the southern hemisphere, so traditions such as Santa Claus (Papá Noel in Argentina) in full regalia, real pine trees and Christmas stories around the fireplace do not translate temperature-wise, making Christmas a mash-up of European traditions and Latin American summertime partying with family, friends and feasting.
Definitely, Christmas' Eve and New Year's Eve are two of the year's most awaited evenings to spend with family or friends.
Christmas carols are nearly non-existent in Argentina, however twinkling lights and wrapped presents abound. December 8 (recognized by the Catholic church as Feast of the Immaculate Conception or "Día de la Virgen") is the kick-off date for setting up Christmas decorations. Christmas trees have become a popular decoration element in Argentina (especially in shopping centers and plazas in metropolitan Buenos Aires) though the unmissable decoration is the nativity set. Referred to as a pesebre, the nativity sets will remain in houses well past Christmas Day. In fact, it is common practice in Argentina to leave Christmas decorations up until January 6, the day of Epiphany or Three Kings Day (Wise Men or "Reyes Magos").
Young children flock to malls and shopping centers to hand Santa a handwritten letter and to take a photo with the jolly character. You may hear some locals refer to Ol’ Saint Nick as El Gordo de Navidad.
BA stands for Buenos Aires, this sculpture is located next to the Obelisk in Avenida 9 de Julio which is considered the widest avenue in the world.
Because spring is transitioning into summer at this time, many people will leave cities and towns and head to the beach (Costa Atlántica / Atlantic Coast) or look for some fresher options in the South (Patagonia). Therefore even though stores will splash out on decorations and homes will be decked out with nativity sets and lights, you may find Argentina quieter than you’d expect during this month.
Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) is the most festive day of the holiday season. Often, extended family will gather and spend the evening together at home. There will be food in abundance and even the little ones will stay awake until 12 midnight - with some luck they'll see Santa leaving the presents under the Christmas tree... and definitely they won't wait for the next morning to open them!
Most of the gift giving is focused on younger children. Families with older kids often exchange one gift with each member of the family.
Purchasing gifts for family or friends is optional, although bringing food or drinks to share, such as wine or champagne for a toast, at gatherings is a common courtesy.
When midnight strikes, the children can unwrap their presents and older relative enjoy a glass of champagne. After all the excitement of gifts has worn off, the younger generations typically gather with friends and continue the celebrations into the early morning.
Accompanying the gatherings are the explosive sounds of colourful fireworks.
Christmas Food In Argentina
A typical holiday meal in Argentina will have plenty of sweet treats to balance with the savoury. Considering that Christmas lands at the start of summer for those in the Southern Hemisphere, it is not uncommon to witness Argentine families opting for cold dishes as opposed to the typical turkey.
Everyday standbys such as meat and cheese platters, empanadas and sanguches de miga (crust-less finger sandwiches) make an appearance, but Argentina’s Christmas culinary tradition is focused on salads, fancy finger foods and special (and sometimes strange) holiday dishes that usually make an appearance only in this occasion of the year.
Christmas Appetizers & Starters
Vitel Toné (veal in tuna sauce), originally known in Italian as Vitello Tonnato, was brought over by immigrants from the Piedmont region of Italy and somehow established itself as Argentina’s most traditional Christmas entrée.
The labour-intensive dish contains thinly sliced veal topped with a rich sauce of tuna, mayonnaise, cream, egg yolks, white wine, anchovies and capers. It is chilled to let the flavour set and served in thin slices covered in the creamy sauce. It is typically served cold and is a mouth-watering— albeit light —addition to the dining table.
Large families will likely prepare finger foods such as stuffed tomatoes or canapes.
Empanadas, originally from Spain (and before that, India in the form of samosas) today are more ubiquitous in Argentina than anywhere else in the world.
Every province in Argentina has their own style of empanada, but it is widely agreed that the "salteñas" (from the province of Salta) are the best.
Argentines can’t live without their tasty empanadas, and many foreign visitors soon find themselves addicted as well.
Other foods: For a fancier version, you can also find wine, cheese, olives, olive oil, dried fruits, gourmet chocolates and other types of sweets. If you are lucky to be invited to join an Argentine Christmas gathering, bring one of these baskets (or put one together yourself, you can find all these in the supermarket easily), and you’ll surely impress them!
Argentina being the land of die-hard carnivores, for many nothing says Christmas like the sacramental asado (barbecue). Despite the heat, a brave asador (bbq-cook) will hold court while reverently attending to the steak, sausage, lamb, and chicken on the grill.
In the countryside friends and family will congregate in the garden or patio of whomever has the most elaborate parrilla set-up, while in some neighborhoods of Buenos Aires groups with limited space will set up makeshift barbecue pits on the sidewalk or in the park.
On rainy years, and as tradition in some families, the main course could be lechón navideño, an oven-roasted suckling pig.
The humid climate of summertime in Argentina is again taken into consideration when it comes to preparing desserts for Christmas Fruit salads and ice cream are go-to’s, but Argentines also have a soft spot for baked goods.
Pan Dulce (pannettone): It literally means ‘sweet bread’. It’s white bread traditionally filled with nuts and dried fruits. Some may come in more fancy ingredients like chocolate chips, orange and lemon zest or even in whole-wheat bread. You can find store-made or homemade pan dulce; the first variety is basically at any store, while the second can be found at (mostly) fancy panaderías (specialized bread shops.)
Budín con/sin frutas: They are cake loafs. The ones with dried fruits are like the western fruit cakes, but they could be of lemon flavor, plain vanilla, marble, or so on, depending on personal taste. Find here an amazing recipe.
Another common find at the supermarkets is turrón, rarely seen at any other time of year. The sweet treat is made of almonds covered in a hardened mix of honey, sugar and egg. Similar to nougat, turrón is purchased as a large block that is then taken home and chopped into cubes.
Mantecol: This is a peanut-based nougat and very traditional in Argentina such as Tayto is to Irish. They are a classic sweet snack and dessert all year round, but especially around Christmas and the New Year.
Garrapiñada de maní : Caramelized peanuts. You can occasionally see street vendors selling these addictive goodies, especially in street fairs and weekend markets.
Helado (ice-cream): inherited Italian tradition (gelatto), in Argentina you can find many "heladerías" (ice-cream shops) and even order delivery to your home. It is sold per kilogram and there are hundreds of flavours, it is literally the only place on Earth where you can be standing at a menu of at least 30 different flavours and there is a high standard. Brands as Rapanui, Freddo or Perssico are incredibly tasty just to name some. Of course, there is DULCE DE LECHE ice-cream in endless combinations!
Vino: The perfect pairing is a big deal in Argentina. Whether you go for white or red wine you can't go wrong since you can find some of the best wines in the world at very affordable prices. Argentina is in fact the fifth largest producer of wine in the world!
Sidra: This is the sparkling, alcoholic apple cider. Some come in non-alcoholic version, suitable for children. Keep it well chilled; it’ll be the drink to keep you ‘bubbly’, and in a holiday mood towards the champagne toast at midnight.
Champagne: Argentines love their champagne. I’d go so far to say that this is the most important item featured in any kind of Argentine celebrations. The most popular brand is Chandon, but there are a wide range to choose from, from cheap to expensive, and from traditional to pink ones.