This year my partner and I were away from home at Christmas, and we decided to spend the holiday in Buenos Aires. And like everyone away from their home countries, it wasn’t really going to be “Christmas” for us this year without England and everything in it.
But we soon realised that the reason Christmas felt so different for us this year wasn’t just because of the warm weather and different setting, it was largely because of the missing ridiculous amount of build up we have in the UK, a ritual that seemingly does not exist in South America.
Let’s face it, in England we start getting excited about Christmas at the beginning of November. And we had thought that South America would be the same. It’s super religious and people are very family orientated, but I guess I got those Christmas ideals confused with propaganda and Christmas fantasy. All of which is ordained not by the people, but by the shops. They can sell more if they start Christmas in November, of course.
At home we worry about what gifts to buy, how much money Christmas will cost, some even get themselves into debt to please people, and for nearly two months we buy extras we don’t need and definitely don’t want. The propaganda we are fed about Christmas is overwhelming, so overwhelming, in fact, that some of us forget what Christmas is actually about.
In South America, where we have been since November, they pretty much ignore the impending holiday and crack on with the difficulties of every day life as normal, pretty much until Christmas arrives. Even on Christmas Eve in Buenos Aires we didn’t feel like it was any different from any other day.
What’s more, we discovered that most people around the world celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. Most of Europe and South America does the same (as we learnt from our travelling friends). So, not only is our commercialism a little bit off the scent (like driving on the left), but we are also out of sync in terms of when people believe Christmas is.
I’m an atheist, but I live in a country that has inherited Christianity and its holidays. But even if you aren’t religious and don’t value the religious meaning, like me, it’s easy to lose sight of why we continue to celebrate Christmas despite being a secular country. It seems to be that it’s a moment, an excuse, to just be with family and friends, without any of the extras, the strains, and the money-orientated woes we deal with most days.
We are off the scent from kids. We receive so many things we could live without, and what’s worse as kids we want, and are encouraged the insistent propaganda, to want more. This doesn’t just affect us at Christmas, believe me, it affects us throughout our lives. It makes us greedy.
In England, Christmas Eve is the night for parties and celebrations, it’s huge. We often ruin our Christmas dinner and instead spend all day feeling sorry for ourselves and gorging on horrendous amounts of food, rather than chatting to our family members and sharing stories. In Argentina, the shops, bars and restaurants shut and people spend the day and night with their family. Locked away, spending quality time together. Even if they are setting off life-threatening fireworks in the road together, at least it’s quality time, right?
In South America we missed the hype, we missed the songs, the American films, the decorations in the street and glaring from people’s homes, the lively bars, and the general Christmas anticipation. Those things don’t really exist in South America.
It was going to be the two of us, with no presents, no hype, and no family, and so during the normal Christmas build-up period all we could think about was missing our loved ones. And that’s already the most important thing about Christmas in Argentina.
We were exposed. Our Christmas-ness was gone.
However, we were the lucky ones. We had been good this year, and were lucky enough to share our Christmas holiday with a very lovely and giving Swedish couple called Marcus and Kajsa. We spent all day and night chatting, eating, laughing and singing Swedish songs. It was heartwarming and felt incredible.
There were no presents, no extras, no advent calendars, no adverts, and we took Christmas as it came, and as it went. Happily and with great company .We didn’t miss the presents, the adverts, the songs, even the films really, we just missed our family and friends.
Next year we will be in Australia… Let’s see what that culture will bring us.