Christmas in Argentina
While every family and country has its own traditions, here in Argentina there are a few Christmas customs that you’re likely to find:
What To Do in Christmas in Buenos Aires Argentina
Spending Christmas in Buenos Aires have a very different atmosphere than many cities in the Northern Hemisphere, for example Chicago, my hometown. In Chicago, Christmas is almost stereotypical. It is freezing cold outside, there is almost always a lot of snow, everywhere is decorated for the holidays and everyone is in the holiday spirit!
In Buenos Aires, the atmosphere is a bit different… First, December is in the middle of summer in Buenos Aires and it is very hot, humid and sunny. Second, the city is very quiet as many porteños (Buenos Aires residents) are travelling for summer vacation. Many people prefer to get out of the city and head towards the beaches near Buenos Aires (like in Punta del Este of Uruguay or Mar del Plata, Argentina) or south to Patagonia to enjoy more temperate climates (like in Bariloche or Calafate, Argentina). That being said, there are still many porteños and tourists who stick out the heat and celebrate the holidays in the city!
This year I have tried my best to get in the spirit by decorating my apartment with Christmas decorations that I have purchased at various supermercados (supermarkets). I have had the best luck finding decorations in the larger supermercados, for example Coto or Carrefour. On Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), mis amigos extranjeros (my foreign friends) and I will have our own Christmas Eve celebration on the patio of my apartment building. Many apartments in Buenos Aires have common areas that you can reserve for parties and Christmas Eve presented a perfect opportunity to utilize it!
Christmas eve night we are planning on attending the midnight mass at Catedral Metropolitana (San Martín 27, Microcentro; next to Plaza de Mayo) where former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, led mass until being chosen as the new pontiff. If we don’t end up making it to the Catedral, we will watch the numerous fireworks that go off at midnight on Christmas Eve!
Later in the night we plan to go to one of the many boliches (night clubs) in Buenos Aires. Many begin to open around 3 a.m. for Christmas Eve after parties. On Christmas day many businesses are closed until late in the day. Therefore my friends and I plan on nursing our wounds from the night before by exchanging small gifts and spending time by the pool to escape the heat!
One important note for visitors during Christmas: public transportation is very limited starting around 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Be careful not to get stranded too far away from home later in the night!
Argentine Christmas Food:
One of the best parts of any holiday is the food that comes with it – and Argentina is no exception! It’s common to have a large meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day as well. With large families, one meal may be spent with one side of the family and the second meal with the other. Here in Argentina an asado is a popular choice, although the meal that is prepared may vary from family to family.
Here you will find some traditional Argentine Christmas food:
This is is a peanut-based nougat treat that is available year-round, but is particularly popular at Christmas time. Go into your local supermarket and you’ll see that all of the mantecol-based treats are out in force! Local heladerías (ice cream parlors) will even feature a mantecol-flavored ice cream.
This is a European import that is fiercely popular in spite of the heat in the summertime. It’s a sweet bread often made with dried fruit and is always consumed at Christmas time. There are factory-made varieties available at every supermarket, but if you stop at a panadería (bakery) you’re very likely to find pan dulce artesanal, which is homemade by locals!
This sweet treat is pretty much only available in supermarket during Christmas time. It has a Moorish origen and the kinds that we consume generally come in 2 types: the hard ones are like nougats, usually come in a big block of almonds tightly packed in a candy made with honey, sugar and egg whites, some also are sandwiched between two thin pieces of rice paper; the soft ones are where the almonds are ground down to a paste and made into a candy with sugar and oil. Originally it was brought over with the Spaniards. It’s made by cooking honey with toasted almonds. Depending on the variety, it can be as smooth as peanut butter or as hard and thick as peanut brittle. This is something that is exclusively available at Christmas time, so get some now before the season has passed!
In a country that loves its dessert, ensalada de fruta con helado (fruit salad with ice cream) is a great summertime delight! It is sweet and refreshing, and it has obviously become the dessert of choice on a hot Christmas day.
This a caramel-coated peanut treat that is sold by street vendors all over the city year-round. Even though it’s a good wintertime snack, they’re very popular at Christmas time. You can also find them in Street fairs and weekend markets.
Some other popular Christmas foods are frutas secas (dried fruit) and maní con frutas (peanuts with fruit).
Argentines love their champagne. I’d go so far to say that this is the most important item 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.
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 tastes.
This is the sparkling alcoholic apple cider. Some come in non-alcoholic version, suitable for children. Keep it well-chilled and it’s the drink to keep you ‘bubbly’ in holiday mood towards champagne at midnight.
For the fancier versions, you can also find wine, cheese, olives, olive oil, dried fruits, gourmet chocolates and other types of sweets and candies. If you are lucky to be invited to join a Argentine Christmas gathering, bring one of these baskets (or put one together yourself, you can find all these in the supermarket easily), you will surely impress them!
Lastly, we like to light a lot of fireworks on Christmas Eve/Christmas and also New Year’s Eve/New Year. Since during these important occasions, it’s all about spending time with families. The festivities are very family-oriented, we buy our own fireworks and light them up in the backyards, parks or rooftop. Oddly enough, there is no one place where people congregate. If you are in town, find a high place around midnight and watch the unorchestrated but still very entertaining firework displays light up the sky!
More Argentine Christmas Traditions:
The Christmas Tree
In public spaces like plazas, stores, and shopping centers you’ll see decorations going up in November – this is so they can go on sale before everyone decorates theirs at home on December 8. December 8 is the day when everyone always puts up their decorations and trees, because it’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Inmaculada Concepción de Maria). Even for people who aren’t necessarily practicing Christians, this day signals the start of the Christmas season here in Argentina. All of the decorations and trees then stay up until January 6, the day of Epiphany (el Día de los Reyes Magos), which is the day after the 12 days of Christmas has ended.
Argentina is not a country where people go singing from door to door in order to spread holiday cheer. While in many parts of North America and Europe it’s common to hear Christmas tunes whenever you turn on the radio or walk into a store, that’s not at all typical here! There will be many holiday decorations – trees, wreaths, garlands, lights, Papa Noel’s, and anything else you can think of – but there won’t be music.
What would Christmas be without fuegos artificiales? It’s also very common during this time of year to send up spherical lanterns, known as globos. These little paper globes have fires lit inside them which causes them to float up through the air over the houses like football- sized hot-air balloons. These can actually be quite dangerous, though, since after a point they tend to catch on fire and fall out of the sky.
You’ll see and hear ‘Feliz Navidad‘ (Merry Christmas) and ‘Feliz Año Nuevo‘ (Happy New Year) everywhere, but more commonly, especially when people greet each other around the holiday season, you’ll hear they say ‘Felices Fiestas‘ or ‘Felicidades‘ (Happiness).
¡Felices Fiestas! For more information about Spending Christmas in Argentina contact Vamos Spanish Academy or call us +54-11-59842201 +1-888-808-1242 Volunteering Argentina Clases de Ingles en Buenos Aires