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Christmas in Argentina

December 13, 2021

Putting Up the Christmas Tree

Since I was a little girl, the 8th of December has always been the day when I knew Christmas was just around the corner. You might be wondering what is so special about this date. What does it have to do with Christmas? Well, it has everything to do with Christmas! In Argentina, the 8th of December is a national holiday called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is also the official date when we put up the Christmas tree (or, as we call it, "el arbolito de navidad"). Having a day off to decorate for Christmas is as amazing and as magical as it sounds. But this date wasn't chosen at random. The story of why we do it on the 8th is so rich and full of myths and wonders that I have to share it with you.

According to legend, the actual tradition of putting up a Christmas tree in Argentina started in 1807, when an Irish immigrant decorated a pine tree on December 8 in a public park following the customs of his country. The Irish can trace this custom back to 1200 BC, when the Celtics would decorate a tree that represented the Yggdrasil (a mythical tree that holds up the universe) to honor Frey, the god of the sun and fertility. Another possible reason why we put up Christmas trees is attributed to Martin Luther. One day, while strolling through the forest, he was struck by the beauty of the lights reflected by the stars on the trees and decided to take a tree branch home.

In my family, putting up the Christmas tree has always been a time for us to come together and have fun. We like to mix it up every once in a while and make what we call "arbolitos raros" (weird trees). These Christmas trees are not real trees at all. Instead, we make them! In the pictures below, you can see how we made a tree out of a wooden staircase and some pieces of wood. This year's tree is made out of rusty wires. We added in some homemade decorations to keep up with the style.

A Christmas tree made with a wooden staircase.

Lucia's 2015 Christmas tree made with a wooden staircase. Photo by Lucia Padilla

Christmas tree made out of rusty wire.

Lucia's 2021 Christmas tree made out of rusty wires. Photo by Lucia Padilla

Closer look at Christmas tree made out of rusty wire.

A closer look at Lucia's 2021 Christmas tree and decorations made out of rusty wires. Photo by Lucia Padilla

Christmas decorations made out of rusty wire.

Photo of the making of the Christmas decorations. Photo by Lucia Padilla

Celebrating Christmas

Another fun fact about Christmas celebrations here in Argentina is that we open presents at midnight on Christmas Eve. So, on the 24th, we make a huge family dinner that involves lots of delicious foods like "pan dulce," a white bread filled with nuts and dried fruits, and "vitel toné" or, in Italian, "vitello tonnato," which is a cold meat dish with a mayonnaise and tuna sauce. This is always a Christmas favorite! 

But it is when the clock strikes midnight that the real magic begins. The first magical moment is the Christmas toast, marked by the sound of champagne glasses clinking together. This is the perfect time to hug your family members and tell them how much you love them. The second magical moment occurs when we go outside to watch the fireworks that cover the skies with color and lights. And the last one is the moment that as a kid you fought to stay awake for (which let me tell you wasn't an easy task)—the opening of the Christmas presents! They suddenly and magically appear under the Christmas tree! When did that happen? How did I miss Santa? What a treat that was, and still is, watching all your family happily opening presents between laughs and screams of joy (especially from the little ones). This is the best feeling in the world.

A firework.

Fireworks on Christmas Eve. Photo by Lucia Padilla

Taking Down the Christmas Tree

Now, you might be thinking that if we have a day to put up the Christmas tree, we might also have a day to take it down. And that is exactly correct! We put away the Christmas tree and all the decorations the day after January 6, which is "El Día de los Reyes Magos" (Epiphany or Three Kings' Day). I won't go into too much detail about what this holiday entails, but you must know it involves kings, camels, shoes, grass, water, and more presents! 

Feliz Navidad!

Lula (Motion Designer, ESL Library)

Glossary

  • put up: to build or set up
  • attributed to: named or credited as the source
  • rusty: covered in a reddish-brown coating (iron) due to air/moisture
  • toast: to celebrate with words and a drink
  • take down: to remove something that was previously on display
  • put away: to put in a storage area for use at another time

Sources:

Leave a Comment

What about you? Do you have any traditions for putting up the Christmas tree? How do you decorate it? When do you take it down and put it away? Have you ever made an unconventional Christmas tree? 

How do you celebrate Christmas Eve? Do you enjoy any traditional Christmas food? Please tell us where you are from and share your holiday traditions with us! 

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Comments (13)

Tara Benwell(Author)

I love that there is a special holiday for putting up the Christmas tree. The photos are amazing, Lula. Here in Canada, many people can't wait to put up the tree. Some put their tree up just after Remembrance Day. My family usually waits until the first Saturday of December. Our tradition is to alternate between white lights and coloured lights each year. My daughter loves traditional rainbow-coloured lights and I love white lights! We usually take the tree down on New Year's Day.

Reply to Comment

Lucia Padilla(Author)

Hi Tara! I can’t wait to put up the Christmas tree either! It’s quite hard waiting until the 8th. It’s great that you do it on the first Saturday of December and I love your tradition of alternating the lights. I think I prefer white lights too but coloured lights can be so fun! I wonder which lights you have put up this year!

Tara Benwell(Author)

This year we have white lights on our tree! We've also weeded out a lot of the older ornaments and have mostly a blue, silver, and gold theme (with lots of birds). We do have coloured lights on our front porch. (I wish they were white, too.)

Reply to Comment

Lucia Padilla(Author)

It sounds like a lovely Christmas tree! I love the color theme you have chosen. I would have preferred white lights for the porch too, but I think it's great you have a little bit of both this year!

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I wish decorating the tree was an official holiday here in Canada! What a great tradition to have. I usually put my tree up with my family on December 1st. We put on Christmas music, bake some cookies, and decorate the tree together. That night, we often go out looking at Christmas lights. There's a park near my house where my city puts up hundreds of lights, and it's really beautiful. We also have a Christmas craft day the week before Christmas where we make something festive like ornaments or other decorations. It really gets us in the Christmas spirit! Then we open our presents on Christmas morning and have a big turkey dinner that night with all our extended family. It's such a great time of the year!

Reply to Comment

Lucia Padilla(Author)

All these traditions sound amazing Tanya, I’ll add baking cookies to our own Dec. 8 traditions for next year, yum! I wish my city would decorate with lights too, you don’t really see many decorations outside houses or around the city in Buenos Aires, but we do enjoy big family Christmas dinners as well! It really is a lovely time of the year! ¡Feliz Navidad Tanya!

Ann Dickson(Author)

We usually put up our tree around Dec. 10. This year, however, we were out of town that weekend, so we decided to wait until we got back to get our tree. What a mistake! There is a Christmas tree shortage this year where we live (Richmond, Virginia), and we had to drive all over town to find one. We finally found one at the sixth lot we went to. We ended up with tiny little tree with very sparse branches. It's a funny little tree, but we love it. :)

Reply to Comment

Lucia Padilla(Author)

I am so glad you found a tree Ann! After such a hard time finding it, I am sure it made everything even more special. I do think of Christmas trees as having personalities, so it’s so cool you got a funny one, it sounds like the perfect tree! Hope your Christmas is filled with laughter Ann! ¡Feliz Navidad!

Charles I.(Teacher)

From Javier in Ecuador:
We decorate the Christmas tree together. My children are happy to put up a red star on top of the tree, and they always want to take photos. Also, they put some decorations around the house. After we finish, we drink hot chocolate with cookies.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Ooh, a red star! My son keeps asking for a gold one. We currently have a silver star, but I think a red one would be really nice.

Isaac G.(Student)

Hi, I am Isaac from Ecuador, and on Christmas Eve, my family and I eat some turkey and have fun talking about our funniest anecdotes. We also talk about our family members that have passed away and the good times we had with them.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

I hope you enjoyed your turkey, Isaac! This year, my brother made the turkey, so I didn't have to cook. It was so relaxing!

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