The social network that celebrates Latin food
Late-night dinners filled with family, presents under the Christmas tree and inside children’s shoes, sweltering heat and...fireworks? Yes, it’s all part of traditional Argentine holiday celebrations.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Día de la Virgen)
Celebrated on December 8, El Día de la Inmaculada Concepción (or El Día de la Virgen) unofficially marks the beginning of the holiday season in Argentina. Argentines traditionally set up and trim the Christmas tree on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and devout Catholics will attend church services and street processions to honor the Virgin Mary.
Few Argentines decorate real Christmas trees—virtually all of them are artificial. While people decorate the inside of their homes with a tree, and often a manger scene, they do not typically put lights or decorations outside.
Christmas Eve (Nochebuena)
The most important aspects of the Christmas festivities in Argentina—including the main meal—actually take place on Christmas Eve. Family members begin arriving in the late afternoon or early evening on the 24th, and the celebration gets underway.
Below the equator, the holidays fall smack-dab in the southern hemisphere’s summer. It routinely reaches 85°F or more in Argentina at the end of December, so as you can imagine, a calorie-laden, gut-busting meal is not as welcome here on Christmas. Most Argentines can claim roots in Italy or Spain, and some folks do indeed succumb to the pull of European tradition, with its more substantial holiday spreads; however, many here in Argentina prefer to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with (marginally) lighter food and drink given the hot and humid temperatures at this time of year.
Many Argentines opt for an Argentine asado (barbecue) rather than heating things up indoors. Cuts of beef or chicken or fancier, more expensive meats such as lechón (suckling pig) or lamb are slow cooked on the grill for the holiday meal. Turkey makes an occasional appearance as well.
Cold platters are also quite popular, including dishes such as vitel toné (cold veal with tuna sauce), arrollado primavera (sponge cake filled with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, roasted red peppers and mayonnaise and rolled up jelly roll-style), torre de panqueques (a stack of crepes filled with several different vegetables and meats), empanadas, and various simple salads. Argentines generally sit down to their Christmas Eve meal at around 10pm.
Fruit salad, ice cream and pan dulce (panettone, a sweet yeast bread popularized by Italian immigrants) typically feature on the dessert menu in addition to sweet nibbles such as candied and chocolate-covered almonds and peanuts, dried fruits, turrón, and Mantecol (Greek-style halva candy introduced in the 1940s). Argentines wash down all this sugar with sidra (alcoholic sparkling cider), clericot (white sangria) or ananá fizz (alcoholic sparkling pineapple juice).
At midnight, family members welcome Christmas Day with a toast (either sidra or champagne), and then everyone rushes out into the backyard, the roof of the apartment building or out into the street to set off massive amounts of fireworks and firecrackers. The bombardment generally lasts 20 to 25 minutes, accompanied by the sound of the neighborhood dogs barking wildly.
Once the pyrotechnic display dies down, the action moves to the Christmas tree for the opening of gifts, which have magically appeared thanks to Papá Noel.
Christmas Day (Navidad)
Christmas Day in Argentina is eerily quiet. After a late night of eating, drinking and merrymaking, most people get off to a slow start. Many families pick at leftovers from the Christmas Eve meal, although some folks will grill out (again). Christmas is generally a day of relaxation and loafing around the house with family.
New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja)
See Christmas Eve (the celebration and foods are the same, minus the tree and gifts).
Three Kings’ Day (Día de los Tres Reyes Magos)
Argentina, like most Spanish-speaking countries, celebrates El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos on January 6. On the evening of January 5, children customarily place their shoes in the window of their bedroom or by the door to the house in the hopes that the Three Wise Men will bring them a gift. They also leave water and grass nearby for the Wise Men’s camels.
It’s traditional to eat a rosca de Reyes—a sweet yeast bread decorated with candied fruit and pastry cream—on this day. Reyes signifies the end of the holiday season in Argentina, and the tree and ornaments disappear until the following year.
If you’d like to serve some of the dishes traditionally prepared during the holidays in Argentina, take a look at these recipes on Hispanic Kitchen. ¡Felices Fiestas a todos!