Christmas decorations of Papa Noel (Santa Claus), candy canes and Christmas trees hang in store windows, Christmas music plays in English rather than Spanish, and every apartment lobby has a small Christmas tree that greets residents. Though I am on a different continent, the Christmas spirit still surrounds me in Buenos Aires.
Papa Noel’s image is even on Coca Cola bottles, reminding Argentinians that Navidad is just around the corner. I pass by a few balconies with Christmas lights and Nativity scenes displayed outside of churches on my way to the gym or a movie. There are reminders all around me that Christmas is here, yet I still don’t quite feel like it is.
The month of December here is unlike the month of December in Minnesota. Here, I experience sweltering heat, palm trees and a few sunburns. In Minnesota, we usually face frigid temperatures, large snowfall and naked trees. It still does not feel like Christmas here because of these differences.
Also, my host parents are not religious, like most people here, so they do not have any Christmas decorations in the house. One day I bought a small white Christmas tree with pink and purple tinsel adorned on it with blue ornaments to put in my room in order to get into the “Christmas spirit.” When I brought it home, they loved it, so we placed it in the living room so everyone could enjoy it. “It is like we have a tree from Minnesota with snow here with us in Argentina’s summer,” said my host mom, Beatriz.
My host family and I went to my uncle’s house to celebrate Christmas, which is about a twenty minute drive, but still within the city. Many cousins, uncles and aunts were there, and they made me feel so welcome when I arrived. I was nervous going to such a huge family gathering, but they treated me as their own. We sang Spanish songs while my host brother played his acoustic guitar, we drank a traditional Argentine alcohol called fernet with coca cola and we played a trivia game until it was time to begin the feast.
There were more than four different meat dishes on the table, including ham, steak, chicken and tuna. We ate chunks of boiled potatoes mixed with green beans, a specialty roll of bread, with ham, cheese, mayonnaise and olives, a salad with arugula and grated Parmesan cheese, and quinoa rice with chunks of bell peppers and corn. It was different than the meal I usually eat with my family back in Minnesota, but nonetheless delicious.
For dessert we had ice cream, which is the most common dessert here, since it is considered the best in the world, and then at midnight we toasted with champagne, nuts and raisins–another tradition here.
They had a small exchange of gifts which lasted only a few minutes, but it was very unlike what happens in the United States. Not everyone had a present, they were not wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper and they were very simple like a book or a candle. “The meaning of this day for us has always been to get together with family we may have not seen in a while, especially since we all lead our own lives now,” said my host dad, Carlos.
It was very obvious to me that this celebration was not about gifts, but about getting together with family and savoring everyone being under one roof. Not solely in the United States, but around the world, we have turned this holiday into something that is about material things, when it should be about spending time with loved ones and celebrating the birth of Jesus. For me personally as a Catholic, I see this day more as another opportunity to draw closer to my faith with my family at my side at mass, rather than gathered around a Christmas tree with an enormous amount of presents beneath it.
This party, however, did not have a religious aspect at all, which was strange to me since Americans typically celebrate the birth of our Savior around this time, but I think it’s because this holiday has turned into a more secular, cultural holiday rather than religious in all parts of the world.
Although I miss my family dearly and wish I could spend this beautiful holiday with them, I know that next Christmas I will be back in the United States, so I need to stay in the moment here and enjoy every minute of an Argentinian Christmas. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!