Argentina is a country made mostly by immigrants. Most of these immigrants came from Europe, even though we have immigrants from all over the world. We are proud to have the largest community of Spanish and Italians outside Europe, we also have the largest community of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish in a non-Anglo-speaking country. And the same happens with the French, Germans, Swiss, and so on. In the last decades, we received many people from Nigeria, Russia, and China. Of course, our population also has a large number of people from other Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay and because of the dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela, we have welcomed many people from there, too.
My family is not an exception to this rule. My four grandparents were Italian, and my father’s parents were from Calabria and Venice. My mother’s parents were from Pisa and Pordenone, and my mother was born in the north of Italy, in Udine. My maternal grandfather was a lieutenant during the Second World War for Mussolini’s army. After the war, he brought his family to Argentina. Like most Argentinians, I have double nationality, I am Italo-Argentinian.
And like many other families that descend from immigrants, our grandparents didn’t bring only clothes in their luggage, they also brought their customs and traditions, their music, their dances, and their food.
Unlike other Latin American countries, Argentina is very proud of its European roots. As a matter of fact, in the 1880s, Argentina completely ignored its neighboring countries and got closer to Europe than to the rest of America. We always considered ourselves as an appendix of Europe. Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of South America. Mayo Avenue in Buenos Aires resembles a street from Madrid, La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires City looks like Naples, in Italy.
We provided food to Spain during the Second World War and we were Germany and Italy's allies. When we had a war conflict with England in 1982 because of the South Atlantic Islands they took from us in 1832, Italy provided my country with intel on the warships England sent towards Argentina. Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was furious and personally called the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Andreotti, to remind him that as a member of NATO, Italy couldn’t help us and go against another member of NATO such as England. Mario Andreotti told her that the first casualty of that warlike conflict was a first-generation Argentinian, son of an Italian couple, Pedro Edgardo Giachino, an Argentine military member of the Argentine Navy ―marine infantry frigate captain. And as the saying goes “blood is thicker than water” therefore he kindly asked her never to call him again to tell him what he should do and hang up on her.
But going back to European traditions carried on in Argentina. One important example is the Spanish celebration of the Valencian Falla. The Valencian community in Mar del Plata, this is my hometown, hires a prestigious Valencian architect or artist to design a statue then they make it with paper mache, the statue is then placed on the Boulevard near the Casino and the beach. It is exhibited for about a month in March and during the festivities it is burnt after dusk. In Spain, this celebration is bigger and there are lots of paper mache statues, that are burnt on a particular night, but my city is the only city outside Spain that celebrates this festivity.
The night of Saint John is celebrated in many cities on June 24, the date on which the winter solstice occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, on this date bonfires are lit in the neighborhoods, it's been a tradition to jump over such bonfires. People prepare dolls representing their feelings in them to burn on the great bonfire at night. People gathered around huge hearths to shout "Long live Saint John!" In other cities, residents make a doll with cloth, paper, and straw and throw little pieces of paper with their wishes, when they lit the fire they burn the doll along with the paper with their wishes and the smoke raises the wishes to be fulfilled. In some cities, people carry out the traditional crossing of embers, which means walking barefoot over burning embers. The festivity ends when the bonfire is lit, and a life-size doll stuffed with explosives and fireworks, often dressed up is thrown into the fire.
Of course, another example would be the Irish celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, which is widely spread all over the country, without a parade like the one the Irish do in Dublin, I must say, but I think we celebrate Saint Paddy mostly because it is a good excuse to drink lots of beer. Some Irish pubs import green beer for that occasion. So many people attend the pubs that normally they set tables on the street and traffic is stopped all night.
In cities with large German communities, we celebrate Oktoberfest, and the food is almost a replica of what you can eat in Germany. Many German tourists who visit Villa General Belgrano, in Cordoba are amazed because they can eat the same food they eat in their own country. There is a famous restaurant there where you can get every sausage from every German region.
The City of Bariloche, in the South close to the Andes Mountains, was designed to look like any town in the Alps. During the First World War, pine trees were introduced in the area and also Red foxes, deer, and other European animals. The purpose of doing this was to give Europeans a place to go on holidays, where they could feel at home and escape the war.
And those are just a few examples of how close we feel to Europe and its traditions.
But unfortunately, some traditions from Europe were not intended for South America, the most important one is Christmas. The main difference is that for us Christmas is more important than New Year’s Eve, which is very important in Europe. But the funny thing about Christmas is that in December Europe has a cold, white Christmas, while in South America we have a very hot Summer Christmas, with temperatures that can be 38-44°C (100.4-111.2°F), a slight difference. But to follow our grandparents’ traditions, we eat extremely caloric food designed for crude cold Winter weather. First, we have some appetizers with some vermouth, then we have a heavy meal consisting mostly of roasted pork with potatoes or something similar. After that we eat all kinds of nuts, European style sweets like marzipan, nougats, caramelized almonds, dates and figs stuffed with walnuts while we wait for midnight when we drink champagne and eat panettone. Stuffed like that we open the presents and go to sleep. On the following day, at lunch we eat the same menu we ate the night before. The fact that we survive after eating all that is a real Christmas miracle!
After gaining about one or two kilograms (2.2 or 4.4 pounds) in just two meals we go on a strict diet for two main reasons. The first is we are in Summer and we want to look good in our swimsuits, the second reason is to get our stomachs ready because on January, 6 we celebrate Epiphany, and then we go back on a diet again to get ready for Easter, when we overload our stomachs with eggs made of chocolate stuffed with all sort of candies, Easter cake and lots of food. This happens by the end of Summer when the temperatures are still high.
We do all this in the name of keeping traditions alive. It is also a way of remembering our ancestors and feeling close to the relatives most of us still have in Europe.
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