Christmas in Argentina

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In North America and Europe, Christmas evokes visions of festive light displays, colorfully wrapped gifts, Christkindlmarkts, decorated trees and, in some places, snow. In some ways, Christmas in Argentina is similar, but there are also some big differences.

For starters, this South American country sits below the equator, meaning that Christmas falls in the heat of summer with not a snowflake in sight. So, understandably, Argentinians tend to head to the beach for their Christmas celebrations.

Christmas in Argentina is also less commercialized than the holidays in the USA. Gifts are bought, but they are mainly given to just the children and are kept hidden as opposed to being displayed under the tree. In fact, not every home will have a Christmas tree. But, being predominantly a Catholic country, what they will have is a nativity scene, which is set up on December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).

You will see Christmas trees in public settings like shopping malls, where you will also find Santa. What you probably won’t hear are Christmas carols.

Some things are more familiar, though. For Argentinians, Christmas is about sharing time with friends and family and enjoying some traditional meals.

The family Christmas tree. Photo by Megan Webber

How to Celebrate Christmas Like an Argentinian

Christmas in Argentina is celebrated on December 24 and is the biggest holiday of the year. During the day, parents run around from store to store trying to find those last-minute gifts. Toy stores are the most popular this time of year because the gift-giving tradition is mostly reserved for children, with adults rarely receiving presents.

Once all the gifts have been bought and wrapped, they are hidden from sight until midnight on Christmas Eve. Some people go to church before dinner for Mass, but it’s not a tradition that all Argentinians practice. People usually go to a family member’s house and have a big dinner around 9 or 10 p.m.

Little Passports Banners

Last year, my mother and I spent Christmas with some Argentinian friends in Tres Arroyos, which is in the Buenos Aires province and close to the Atlantic coast. It was my second Argentinian Christmas and my mother’s first.

What sticks out to me, as an American, is how calm the whole ordeal is down south, but also how incredibly welcoming the people are and how delicious the food is.

Pionono. Photo by Megan Webber

Special Argentinian Christmas Food

The Argentinians make special foods that they wait all year for and only eat on Christmas. Pionono is a favorite holiday treat. It is a sweet bread rolled up like a cinnamon roll, filled with layers of ham, tuna or veggies and covered with a topping of cream cheese. There are several different kinds of pionono.

For dessert, many Argentinians eat fruit salad with dulce de leche, pan dulce or Italian panettone (similar to a fruit cake) or a special Christmas cake with dulce de leche and sweet cream. The dinner lasts until about midnight, which is when the real fun begins.

Fireworks and Festivities

At midnight, the kids run outside to watch the fireworks, which people set off from the streets in front of their houses. Sometimes you can see multiple mini-firework shows from one spot on the street.

The adults in Argentina follow with glasses of Champagne, and someone usually makes a Christmas toast. When the fireworks are over, everyone goes back inside to find that presents have been left under the Christmas tree by Papa Noel, or Santa Claus, as he is otherwise known.

When the last gift has been opened and all the pan dulce is gone, people finally go home and go to bed. It is typical for people to not go anywhere on December 25. Kids wake up and play with their new toys, and some people have a second Christmas dinner, but it is usually a very calm day.

Christmas in Argentina often is spent at the beach..
Family day at the beach. Photo by Megan Webber

No Sounds of Christmas Carols

Argentinians are not as big of fans of Christmas carols and movies as Americans are. The radio stations don’t play Christmas tunes all season long, and Hallmark isn’t such a big deal that far south.

Without all the caroling, Christmas Day sounds a lot like any other day in an Argentinian household. It is often hot outside, so most people stay home or go to the beach if it’s nearby.

We opted for the Argentina beach holiday, which is something I had never experienced before. After sleeping in and waiting for the heat to pass, we drove to the coast around 5 p.m. We were able to spend a few hours splashing in the waves before the sun went down and the mosquitoes came out.

There is nothing quite like a beach sunset, especially when you’re with people who love you on Christmas Day.

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