Christmas and New Year in Argentina

A colorful row of Christmas stockins hang from the edge of counter.
Lore found some colorful Christmas stockings to hang.

Christmas in Argentina is celebrated on December 24, but things don’t really get started until late at night. Christmas stockings are not traditional here, so for fun Lore and I brought some for her family. We hung them from the counter in the dining room.

At midnight the adults all brought the gifts to the tabletop tree. Then we brought Lore’s five-year old nephew in and told him that Papa Noel (Santa Claus) had come. Lore’s youngest sister even dressed up as Papa Noel and pretended to be caught leaving the house. Oddly, even in the subtropical summer heat he still dresses for the North Pole. For a nineteen year old girl my sister-in-law made a pretty good Papa Noel.

After midnight we exchanged gifts. Outside the entire city erupted in fireworks—another benefit of summertime Christmas. Argentina doesn’t bother with the exercise of outlawing or discouraging fireworks in the name of safety, and they are everywhere. Some people lit globos, paper hot-air balloons that sail glowing overhead.

Driving Lore’s grandmother and aunt home, we passed a club where some celebrating was to happen. It was still empty, as it was only around 2 a.m. and much too early to start partying. Lore’s younger siblings went out later but we took a pass on the all-night dancing this time.

Saturday, December 25 was more of a take-it-easy day. We actually swam in a backyard swimming pool on Christmas. It was a hot day, but the pool was pleasant in the late afternoon. We shared mate in the shade afterward. Taking mate is a nice, easy-going ritual of conversation and passing around tea that we sip from a common straw.

All this swimming and hanging out in the yard reminds me that Argentina is not “Chrismassy” from an American point of view. Of course the weather is not Christmas-like, but the decorations are pretty minimal and the gift-giving is modest. I think Argentina’s Christmas lacks the excess I’ve come to despise, and that is okay with me.

It was hot. The dryness made the heat tolerable, especially indoors, but the heat sort of crept up on us and wore us down. I think humidity, for all the discomfort it causes, is a gift in the sense that it alerts you to unpleasantly hot weather sooner rather than later.

A man and two women on a street stage beat drums with their hands.
A band of hippie drummers performed at the craft fair.

We’d wait for it to cool off before going downtown. On Sunday we went to the Paseo de los Artesanos—also known locally as “los hippies”—a popular weekly street fair. The vendors aren’t so much hippies as independent designers and crafters. In the U.S. these fairs are common enough that it’s hard to find the good stuff among all the junk, but this fair was pretty good. Lore says the same is happening with this fair, though; it has outgrown the plaza and many vendors have opened permanent shops on the adjacent streets.

Meat cooks over hot coals in a brick barbecue pit.
Meat cooks over hot coals in the asador.

The cool Sunday evening was also an occasion for asado (barbecue) with Lore’s friends. We brought bags of surplus Halloween candy to share. American candy goes down well here, though Lore’s friends didn’t quite know what to make of Tootsie Rolls.

The heat wave intensified on Monday to over 100 degrees Fahrenheir, and the local news announced a “heat alert”. I knew it got hot in Argentina but that was hottest I had experienced in my several trips there. The news announcer said to stay home and take a nap in the afternoon, and we obeyed.

After it cooled off, we walked across town to visit Lore’s grandmother and aunt. On the way we walked through the National University campus. In front of the business school there was a big mess, like an elephant had thrown up on the walk. Lore pointed and said, “That’s what happens when you get your degree.” As if that wasn’t enough of an eyebrow-raising thought, just then a young woman walked past wearing only her underwear, but covered from head to foot in multicolored mess. Lore explained that when you graduate, your friends cut off your clothes and douse you with food, paint, confetti, or whatever they can bring from home. “You have to make sure you wear nice underwear and bring something to sit on so your car doesn’t get dirty,” she said.

The next day the the heat wave broke. We went to a downtown bookstore to buy a Spanish dictionary. I mean a real one, with definitions in Spanish, not a Spanish to English dictionary. My Spanish was very, very rusty on this trip and the dictionary will help with that (and with Scrabble too).

Lore tried to explain peanut butter to her mother. Descriptions of peanut butter always get the same reaction from non-Americans and I could never understand why. It’s so simple and mundane that it hardly merits a mention, but some people find it as exotic as I might find fried grasshoppers. It also turns out our use of fruit as part of any meal (like breakfast) is a bit odd. Fruit, to Argentinians, is thought of as an after-lunch dessert. So my breakfast of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt stood out as a little bizarre.

For all that, Argentina has never been very shocking to me. I’m always struck by how similar it is to the U.S. And there are I times I can’t tell the difference. We went shopping at Patio Olmos, a downtown shopping mall, and ate lunch in the food court. When I squinted and blurred out the Spanish menus I felt like I could have been anywhere. Lore related to her family my comment that I didn’t think Argentina was a Third World country (more like a Second World country, as I like to joke). That was worth a couple of days of discussion over tea.

At the end of the year the shops were open during the day, but waiters and cab drivers seemed grouchy and in a hurry to go home. We passed New Year’s Eve with a nice chicken dinner with Lore’s family on their patio. They don’t watch television—there is no ball drop like in Times Square—but as expected all hell broke loose at the appointed moment.

The fireworks in the neighborhood were even more intense than on Christmas. The most spectacular thing about these fireworks was their ubiquitousness. Since they go off in all directions you have to pay attention, so as not miss anything but also for your safety.

Pastures on rolling green hills under a stormy gray sky.
The sierras were stormy and a little chilly but still green and pretty.

On New Year’s Day Lore’s mom and stepfather took us up the scenic route to Villa Giardino. We went first through Córdoba’s suburban towns and then by a new highway over the sierras. The sierras were cool and covered in lush green pastures full of horses and cows. The paved highway isn’t complete, so we took a bumpy dirt road that wound its way down the other side of the hills to La Falda, where my mother-in-law grew up.  La Falda is a cute summer town but most of the cafes were closed for the holiday.

A tree of lights rises above two massive gift boxes.
Plaza España was somewhat improved by the cheerful Christmas decorations.

At night, back in Córdoba, we were looking for something to do. After the rain stopped, we went to Paseo del Buen Pastor for a lomito (like a Philly cheese steak but with much more cholesterol). We also strolled through the Plaza España to see the Christmas decorations. The concrete monuments were wrapped up like giant gift boxes and a tall tree of Christmas lights rose from its center of the plaza.

In our down time, Lore and I flipped through her mom’s old magazines. One biweekly, Caras, is a bit like an Argentinian version of People. I was struck by how many celebrities Argentina has for a country with a medium-sized population; the percentage of whom appear in this magazine seems extremely high. Pretty much anybody wealthy, prominent, or successful who wants their picture taken is a celebrity. My mother-in-law calls them figureti: those who stick their heads into other people’s photos. They are sort of like an volunteer army of Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons, who fill the gaps in the endless celebrity news cycle.

This was not much of a sight-seeing trip, so I don’t have many good photos to share. It was more of a visiting, celebrating, and shopping trip and I was glad to put the camera away for most of it.

2010

I don’t make New Year resolutions–you could say the last resolution I made and kept was not to make them. There are things I need and want to do, whether I resolve to do them or not. Despite my growing punch list for self-improvement, 2009 was a pretty good year. I married my awesome wife, and I have a new nephew too.

In 2000, I spent New Year’s Eve with my friends Jeremy and Megan in Manhattan. We ate at an Indian restaurant on Curry Row, then went back to Jeremy’s apartment in Brooklyn where we watched some weird cable access show before watching the ball drop in Times Square. I even drew a cartoon about it.

Rough pencil cartoons of a night celebrating the new year.
Adam at the milennium

Stainless steel shelves with assorted pots and pans hanging from it. Also pictured are Evrim's happy-face potholder, the kitchen fan, and a stylish black outlet plate.
Evrim's kitchen complete
For a few years after that my New Year ritual involved attending Evrim’s informal but intimate parties in New Jersey, which also involved helping him shop and clean the apartment to get ready. One year, he still had to install shelves and other fixtures in the kitchen. The good old days.

This year Lore made a nice dinner of beef with mushrooms and potatoes in cream sauce. We watched “Revenge of the Nerds” and then drank wine at midnight. The new good times.

Same as the old year?

I’m enjoying a day off today. Last night was the first New Year’s Eve that I ever spent in the Central Time Zone (or any time zone other than the Eastern), so I actually watched the ball drop in Times Square at 11 a.m. What an odd feeling. Do the people on the West Coast watch Dick Clark at 9:00?

I spent a good chunk of my evening playing Uno one-on-one (uno a uno?) with Susan’s youngest. It was variation called Uno Attack, in which cards are drawn by a machine that spits them out all over the place. Those marketing geniuses at Mattel. She loves pushing the button on that machine. Anyway, she’s pretty good at it for six years old.

In between holidays

It keeps snowing here in Iowa. We got six inches after I flew out Denver last Saturday and then a few more inches on Friday. It even snowed on Christmas Day in Colorado. My brother keeps telling me how mild the winters are there but every time I’ve been there in the fall or winter it has snowed.

Christmas was nice. I’ll be spending the New Year here in Iowa, which is a break from my usual routine of spending it with friends in New York or New Jersey.

New York, December 2006

Here are my photos from my post-Christmas trip to New York. I met up with Ava for an evening in Chinatown, then back to her hometown in Rockland County. The next day we went with John to Bear Mountain and West Point. After that I spent the weekend in New Brunswick with Evrim and caught up with a number of other friends. It’s funny, now everybody loves Rutgers after their bowl game win. New Year was fun. Evrim stir-fried some beef and shrimp, and we drank to the (original) Star Wars Trilogy.

Home

I got in okay last night, not too hung over from Evrim’s vodka milkshakes. The flight out of Atlanta was delayed by two hours, but nothing too bad.

Winter in Mississippi means the frogs calling were last night when I came back to my apartment. There was even a toad waiting for me in front of my building.

New Year’s in New Jersey to singing frogs in Mississippi in 24 hours. I love modern travel.

Death to 2004!

I’m back at my folks’ place after a few days in New Jerseystan. I had dinner with a bunch of friends on Thursday, and spent last night drinking with many of the same. I haven’t been that drunk in a few years. Haven’t danced that much in about the same, either (there is a strong correlation).

Speaking of stuff not done in years, Evrim and I got in an evening of bowling Wednesday night. I thought my arm was going to fall off after five games, but it felt okay the next day. My highest score was 105.

Tomorrow night I return to Mississippi. There’s been just too much leisure in my life the last month and half; I atone starting this week with a solid ten months of work. Though in fact my boss seems willing to be more liberal about scheduling leave, so we can burn up some of our “use or lose” time before the end of the year. In reality I suspect our precarious schedule might not be as accomodating.

However, I am looking forward to returning to Mississippi because I’d like to get back to the work of my life: planning my career, consolidating some of my finances, working on my website, trying my new digital camera, and figuring out a way to abduct the Argentine into the US.

Ah yes, and I won’t have to use my dad’s laptop there. The accursed cursor jumps around when I type too fast.