I just wrapped up my first Christmas in Argentina.
Rather than Christmas day, Christmas Eve is where the festivities take place.
Similar to the US, Christmas here in Argentina is becoming less about the religious aspect and more about the coming together of family. As such, this year my girlfriend and I went to the parent’s house of her brother’s wife where both families joined. They live in a residential part of Córdoba (barrio Atlantica) in a nice house with a backyard swimming pool.
We arrived around 10:30pm to find a couple large tables setup in the backyard where we sat and chatted. The dinner started with Quilmes and a picada – typical Argentine appetizer of bread, cold cut meats, olives, and cheeses. Then we had wine and roasted pork and pollo a la naranja. After dinner we started in the on fernet and coke and chased it down with fruit salad and ice cream. We also had a local treat – Pan Dulce – a sweet bread with dried fruits and nuts. The food was amazing.
As midnight approached the celebration reminded me more of a New Years one than Christmas. We did a countdown at midnight, cheers’d with champagne, and hugged and kissed everyone wishing them Feliz Navidad instead of a Happy New Year. Despite their insistence to do it earlier, at midnight the kids were finally allowed to open their gifts that Papa Noel brought them. My girlfriend’s nephews are 12 and 6, with the latter still believing in Santa Claus.
In my opinion, the whole story of Santa Claus seems a little less fathomable here in Argentina. In the US Santa comes during the night of Christmas Eve while everyone is asleep and leaves the gifts under the tree. Despite the fact that Santa has to visit every single house in the world, the story is a little more believable as the bearded jolly man has an entire night to work with. Here the parents emerged after midnight with the gifts that Santa had just brought. Two irregularities stick out here 1) Santa arrives right at midnight – making him the only punctual one in Argentina and 2) every house receives their gifts from Santa right at midnight. Any little Argentine kid has to be asking himself, how in the world could Santa deliver everyone’s gift right at midnight? But alas, the joy on the little kids faces was priceless.
As the clock struck midnight fireworks began. Emerging from north, west, east, and south they lit up the night sky making everything a little bit more visible. The neighbors to the left shot off Roman candles right into a palm tree so dry it was just begging to be lit on fire. But it was all fun and games on this night. Fireworks continued throughout the night exploding every so often to scare the crap out of me.
Another Christmas Eve night tradition are the globos, paper decorations with a light inside that float into the sky similar to Chinese lanterns. The sky is filled with them on Christmas Eve after midnight.
There was also a full karaoke setup as one of the family is a DJ so the family members took turns singing along with the songs while the others danced. Every time an song in English came on they rushed to give me the microphone and I could not disappoint – even if the song was Oops I did it again by Britney Spears.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between Christmas here and in the states has to do with being on the other side of the globe. Christmas in Summer! Even well after midnight it was still in the high 80’s so I threw on my board shorts and joined the kids and family members in the swimming pool. We played games in the swimming pool and watched the kids perfect their backflips and side jumps into the pool. Meanwhile the fernet and cokes did not stop and by the time I exited the pool with wrinkled fingers I had a solid buzz going.
After celebrating with family its then customary to party it up with friends, another difference between here and the US where things stay pretty low key. Going to a club/disco at 3am on Christmas morning while of course not done by everyone is still pretty common. So around 4am went over to a house party of one my girlfriend’s friends. We finally returned to our apartment around 6:30am in full daylight and went to bed. Feliz Navidad!
Christmas Day is very relaxed as most (including us) sleep off the activities of the night before. There may be a few additional family visits but for us we just relaxed with a little reading and movies in between a sufficient amount of Christmas siestas.
Also on Christmas Day I phoned home to talk with my family. I spoke with my parents and aunt in the morning and then my sisters and brother-in-law in the evening. Spending Christmas away from my family was very tough. For the first time in my 3 months here in Argentina I really missed being home. My girlfriend’s family was very welcoming and sweet and that certainly helped provide some comfort but no matter what holidays away from your family are difficult.
Merry Christmas to all!