With a strong European influence, Argentina's Christmas is much more similar to the holiday in Europe and North America than other countries in South America. However, some local traditions have remained strong—with over 90 percent of the population identifying themselves as Roman Catholics, it makes the holidays a special time in Argentina.
Christmas Traditions in Argentina
Over the years Christmas has changed and moved away from a strictly religious event. Some criticize the evolution of Christmas in Argentina for becoming too commercial and losing sight of religion more so than neighboring countries like Venezuela. While it was originally tradition to make presents or buy small gifts, that changed with the rising economy and was welcomed until the economic crash in 2002 when families were not as prosperous.
It can be debated, but what remains important is the connection to family and friends during this popular holiday. Christmas is very important to devout Catholics but for everyone, it is a family affair. The most important day is Christmas Eve as Argentine families attend Christmas mass and then return home for a big dinner feast and celebrations.
Like most other countries including Peru, fireworks are a central focus of celebrations. Children gather to light them, although they delight all ages and can be heard until the dawn of Christmas Day, long after the kids have gone to bed.
One of the more unique Christmas traditions in Argentina is the globos. Similar to those found in Asian cultures, these paper balloons are lit from within and then float upwards creating a beautiful night sky of lanterns.
But the festivities do not end on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is very relaxed and the spirit is held through Three Kings Day on January 6 when children receive presents. The night before, Argentine children leave their shoes outside the front door of their homes to be filled with gifts. This is an old tradition, and in addition to leaving their shoes out, children may also leave hay and water for the Magi whose horses would need it, just as they needed it for their travels to see Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
The tradition has changed slightly as now it is common for children to also leave their shoes under the Christmas tree.
Christmas Decorations in Argentina
Christmas decorations seem to have a very familiar feeling in this country as in the United States. During the Christmas season, cities and houses are washed in beautiful Christmas colors and lights, and flowers are found everywhere. Wreaths of red, white, green, and gold welcome friends and families into the home.
With a strong European influence, it is more common to see a Christmas tree complete with cotton balls to represent snow, which is amusing for those who know that it has only snowed once, and briefly in Buenos Aires in the last 10 years. The tree incorporates a blending of the local and international cultures as a Santa Claus ornament can appear beside an ornament made by a South American artist. With presents underneath them for children, the tree symbolizes the evolution of Christmas in this country.
However, the traditional pesebre or nativity scene is still a focal point when decorating the Argentinian home. It was once the area to place presents but now shares a space close to the Christmas tree with presents underneath.
Christmas Food in Argentina
Like Peru, the main Christmas dinner is served in Argentina on Christmas Eve (December 24). Upon the initial glance, it would appear that the Argentine Christmas dinner is not so different as it includes traditional roast turkey along with other meats, side dishes, mince pies, and desserts.
Dinner on Christmas Day is a bit different, and you can see a few dishes that may not be on your Christmas dinner table. Warm weather parrillas are an institution in Argentine culture, and it is very common to see these picnics and barbecues as part of the festivities. If the meal is not a dedicated parrilla, you can be sure there is barbecued meat on the table to satisfy all of the guests.
In Argentina, Christmas also includes special desserts like panettone which, as in Europe, has crystallized fruits and nuts, especially almonds.