It’s that time of year again: The Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have ended, the Thanksgiving leftovers are just about gone and the Christmas tree is going up. The holiday spirit is in the frigid air. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere that is…
For those that live down south, the holiday season means breaking out your flip flops and tank tops. And that’s not the only thing that’s different when December rolls around. We’ve already talked about what makes the holiday season unique in Spain, now let’s get into what it’s like to celebrate the holidays in Argentina.
There are two key elements in every holiday celebration in Argentina. The first is common around the world, but the second one is something that sets Argentina apart (although Uruguayans might remind us that they, too, celebrate their holidays this way). Can you guess what these two things are?
If one of your guesses was family, you’re most definitely correct. No holiday celebration would be complete without an argentine’s papás, hermanos, tíos, primos, abuelos and more.
The second key part of the holidays is the asado. An asado in Argentina is like a cook-out or a barbecue, but what sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill cookout is the meat. To do an asado, you need a couple of elements: some friends and family, a parilla (a charcoal grill – see photo) and some meat.
We could do an entire post on meat in Argentina; one of the reasons why people theorize that the meat is so good in the gaucho country is because the way the butcher cuts the meat is different in Argentina than most other places in the world. As a result, the names of the cuts are often foreign, even to other Spanish speakers.
To keep it simple, though, a common combo would be as follows: first a round of morcilla (a kind of blood sausage) and chorizo (possible sliced and put on bread to make a choripan), then some vegetables, often morón (red pepper), papa (potato) and cebolla (onion). Throughout the process, there often is a big hunk (or two or three) of meat cooking for a long time. Those meats varies greatly, depending on the tastes of the asador (the person grilling) and their guests, though common cuts are bife de chorizo, colita de caudril, vacío and entraña.
That said, every asado is unique, and what the asador chooses to cook varies greatly. Along with the good cooked on the grill, a good asado often has salads and lots of wine.
Although asados aren’t limited to the holiday seasons by any means – they happen on birthdays, other holidays and sometimes, just because – as the weather warms up, spring starts to turn to summer and the holidays mean vacation days, asados are more common than ever in month of December.
Other than the participation of family in the holiday celebrations, the asado is the most universal element that spans across the country and is a quintessential part of every get-together during the holidays in Argentina. The traditions don’t stop there, though.
Here are 6 more of the most important foods and customs for the month of December in Argentina:
You might have heard of this as vitello tonnato – it’s an Italian dish from the Piedmont of Italy that has become a staple of the holiday cuisine in Argentina. The dish consists of thin slices of veal covered in a cold, tuna and mayonnaise sauce, topped with anchovies.
It was originally served on the Italian holiday Ferragosto, celebrated on August 15, and migrated with the arrival of the many Italian immigrants that came to Argentina. Although it started out as a hot dish without mayonnaise or tuna in the 600’s, its turn to become a cold appetizer has made it an important staple of argentine Christmases and New Year’s celebrations.
Midnight: Papa Noel and Fireworks
Like many Spanish-speaking countries, Santa Claus is known as Papa Noel, and like many other Latin-American countries, he comes at midnight. Here’s how the tradition works in many households in Argentina:
Most days, most people in Argentina tend to eat dinner late, with 8 pm being a very early dinner and the most typical time for adults to eat being around 9-10 pm, or later, depending on the family. This is even more true once school is out for the summer.
So, on Christmas night, it’s normal for the asado dinner to last well into the night, with everyone still eating and drinking up to midnight. When the clock strikes midnight, fireworks go off all over the country on Christmas (and they also do on New Year’s in a similar manner).
While the fireworks go off, kids might not notice as one of their family members slips away to get the Christmas gifts. Most families in the larger cities don’t have natural Christmas trees, but fake trees aren’t uncommon. By the time kids come back inside, the gifts are waiting.
Although every family is different, each member of the family giving a gift to every single other member of the family, along with Santa Claus piling on the presents (or Papá Noel, in this case), isn’t super common. Instead, it’s more likely that each person will receive a few small items.
Unlike Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere, summery presents like flip flops and summery clothes are much more common than sweaters and pajamas (no ugly sweaters)!
The Sweets: Mantecol and Garrapiñada
Every holiday tradition has some kind of sweets involved and it’s no different in Argentina. Two common sweets that adults and kids enjoy alike during the holidays are mantecol and garrapiñada.
Mantecol is the name of a peanut-based nougat candy, while garrapiñada is a kind of caramelized peanut. You might see one or both of these sugary treats on the Christmas table or in a family member’s candy bowl throughout December and into the rest of the holidays. It’s also common to buy garrapiñada from street vendors in the parks in the summer.
Sidra, or cider in English, in Argentina shouldn’t be confused with the non-alcoholic fall treat, apple cider. Instead, it’s a thin, fruity and bubbly drink, popped open at the strike of midnight on Christmas and New Year’s. The flavors vary, but common ones are apple, peach and even pineapple.
A Christmas display in an Argentine grocery store, featuring Nueces Chandler (walnuts), pan dulce and sidra.
Although we’ve already established the importance of family in holiday celebrations, friends aren’t to be forgotten in Argentina. Social activities any day of the year are an essential part of every Argentinian’s life – they often take place every day of the week, not just on Fridays or weekends – and the holidays are no different. It’s not uncommon to go out with friends after family dinners and even Argentinians that don’t celebrate one holiday or another will go to the celebrations of the friends’ families.
Another Italian tradition adopted in Argentina in the pan dulce (sweet bread), also known as panettone (large bread), its Italian name. The large, cylindrical shaped bread is often filled with pasas de uva (raisins) or other frutos secos (dried fruits), although there are also varieties that include chocolate.
It’s not to be confused with the Mexican pan dulce, but instead is similar to the pan dulce consumed in Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as in parts of Eastern and Southeastern Europe under the name panettone.
Caja Navideña / Employer Gift Giving
Around the holidays, if your part of an office / are an employee of someone, you may very well receive a caja navideña or special christmas gift box. It will likely include Christmas food essentials (like, cider, pan dulce, etc.). They can contain just the basics to boxes that include expensive chocolates and drinks. In addition, they’re often given to people working in buildings, cleaning house, handyman etc. You can find them in just about every supermarket in Argentina around the holidays.