Episode 43: ¡Feliz Navidad! Celebrating Christmas in Argentina and Columbia
Updated: Jan 8
Merry Christmas! In preparation for the holiday this week, we talk about some Christmas traditions in Argentina and Columbia! :) Also, a quick announcement about the podcast and Language Answers for the new year!
Here is a basic timeline of celebrations in Columbia:
Nov. 30th: Alborada. Celebrated in Medellin, where they celebrate the arrival of December at midnight with fireworks that continue until the early morning. (Side note - Medellin is famous for its Christmas lights, which stay up until January 8th.)
Dec. 7th: Dia de las Velitas (Day of the LIttle Candles). This begins around 7 p.m. in Bogotá or Medellín, but on the Caribbean Coast people wake up around 3 or 4 a.m. People light candles and place them in windows, balconies, parks or roads to light a path for the Virgin Mary, thanking her for the good blessings she brought and asking her to bring them good wishes in the coming year. During this time, families will sit outside, pray, sing songs and eat traditional Sancocho.
Dec. 16th-24th: Novenas. These are a set of prayers that occur the 9 days before Christmas. Families and friends gather together to eat, pray and sing villancicos (Christmas carols), as well as to read Scripture. Novenas occur in a different home each night and often by the pesebre (nativity scene). The pesebres are important; apartments might even have elaborate pesebres with running waters or real plants!
Dec. 24th: Christmas Eve. This is a big celebration with family, including a major dinner, the exchanging of gifts, and playing games. People will eat dinner around 11 or 12, which might consist of murano (pork) or chicken wth salad, rice, potatoes, vegetables and desserts. Aguardiente is a popular alcoholic beverage. Then at midnight children receive gifts from Jesus, el niño Dios.
Dec. 25: Christmas Day. This is a day to go to church and to relax/recover from the late night!
Dec. 28: Day of the Innocents. Basically, it's a day for fun practical jokes!
Other important highlights include festive foods, such as natilla (a custard snack), buñuelos (fried dough balls), manjar blanco (a milky spread made of rice, sugar and milk), hojuelas (flaky, battered snacks), and even hot chocolate and cheese! December is also a time of aguinaldos, which are fun games or challenges played throughout the Christmas season up to Christmas Eve. They include beso robado (stolen kiss), tres pies (try to put your foot in-between someone's feet without them noticing), pajita en boca (straw in the mouth), and si o no (you are not allowed to say one of them).
Here is a basic timeline of celebrations in Argentina:
Dec. 8th: Inmaculada Concepción de Maria (The Immaculate Conception). While stores may begin decorating for the holiday in November, people begin to decorate their houses on December 8th. Pesebres are put up and trees decorated. Cotton bolls might even be used on trees or throughout the house to simulate snow (since it is nearing the summer season in Argentina). Decorations normally stay up until January 6th.
Dec. 24th: Christmas Eve. This is the important part of Christmas. People might go to mass before dinner, which is a large meal around 9 or 10 celebrated by the family. It could include turkey, pork, suckling pig or even roasted peacock! At midnight, people toast and enjoy fuegos artificiales (fireworks), launch globos (paper lanterns), and mainly the children receive gifts.
Dec. 25: Christmas Day. This is a day to relax and maybe go to church.
Jan. 6th: El Día de Los Reyes Magos (Day of Epiphany). While some children get their gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve, many instead get their gifts on January 6th. They will leave their shoes outside or by the tree, or even under the bed, for the Magi to fill them. They'll also leave out gifts of hay and water for the Magi's camels!
Other fun things about Argentina at Christmas time:
Christmas music is not as much of a thing there, although one site did say there are people who will sing carols together or go house-to-house (and get small gifts or goodies in return).
Children will write letters to Santa Claus, or Papa Noel (a.k.a., El Gordo de Navidad).
Christmas is warm, as it is getting close to the end of the work and school year. Argentinians are preparing preparing for their summer holidays.
With that in mind, cold food is important for this time of year. People will drink iced beverages, like fruit juice, cider (like Sidra, which is an alcoholic sparkling apple cider), champagne and beer. People might eat parrilladas (barbaques), Russian salad (a fresh potato salad with hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise), traditional lettuce and tomato salads, and pionono (sweet bread with veggies and cream cheese).
Traditional Christmas desserts include panettone (a traditional Italian bread made with fruit and almonds), fruit salad with dulce de leche, pan dulce, ensalada de fruta con helado, budín con/sin frutas (cake loafs with dried fruits), turrón (hard nougat), chocolates, and mantecol (semi-soft peanut butter nougat).
Before 2002, Christmas wasn't so commercial, so often gifts were homemade. Things changed with the economic boom.
"10 dazzling holiday light displays around the world" by National Geographic Staff, updated Dec. 2018
"Colombian Christmas Traditions -Medellin!" by admin on December 19, 2017 for Columbia Immersion
"What to Know About Christmas in Colombia" by Uncover Columbia November 16, 2020
"The Most Unique Colombian Christmas Traditions" by Chris Bell on October 26, 2017 for Culture Trip.com
"The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Argentina in Christmas" by Sorcha O'Higgins on Oct. 30, 2017
"Christmas Traditions of Argentina" by Chantelle Joy on July 24, 2017 for AllThingsChristmas.com
"SOAKING UP CHRISTMAS IN ARGENTINA" by Megan Webber for GoWorld Travel magazine
"Christmas Celebration in Argentina" by the holidayspot.com
"Winter Vacations in Argentina" by AeroMexico
"Cultural Tidbit: Argentine Christmas Traditions" by Ecela Spanish
"Christmas Traditions in Argentina" by AYNGELINA BROGAN, updated January 17, 2020
Past Episodes Mentioned:
"Sancocho Trifásico (Three Meats Sancocho)" by Erica Dinho (has a Spanish version) for My Columbian Recipes, as well as: --"Buñuelos Colombianos (Colombian Buñuelos)" --"Manjar Blanco (Dulce de Leche)" --"Homemade Arequipe or Dulce de Leche" --"Hojuelas o Hojaldras Colombianas (Colombian Hojuelas)"
"Niños envueltos" by Moulinex
"Russian (Latin American) potato salad: Ensalada rusa" by Layla Pujol from Laylita's Recipes
"Argentine Pionono (Roll Cake)" by El Mundo Eats, Dec. 10, 2017
"Pan Dulce (Panettone)" by Katie Metz de Martinez from Hispanic Kitchen
"Ensalada de frutas Argentina" by Norali for Cookpad.com, Dec. 31, 2009
"Argentine Bread Pudding (Bud de Pan)" by Vickie Parks from Just a Pinch Recipes.com