Feliz Navidad from South America: Snowflakes In Hell

December 31, 2008

alex wAlex W • Operation Itch Writer header
read all posts from Alex W

Now, if you passed geography in junior high school, you are probably aware, if you think about it, that it’s coming up on summer here in South America, and it’s been a hot one so far. But with Christmas coming up, I’m eating junk food out of a package with a picture of Tigger and Winnie the Pooh wearing scarves and throwing snowballs at eachother. But it’s not imported, it’s a product made right here in Argentina.

Christmas is a funny holiday. I never really thought so much about why, but my family always celebrated Christmas despite the fact that they are not religious. I’m an agnostic (or shall we say a non-practicing atheist?) but I still celebrate Christmas. It’s a holiday, holidays are nice, and if you’re not religious, you don’t get very many holidays, so forgive me, religious folks, if I just take one of yours without asking. I mean, you guys just invented Christmas so you wouldn’t look so weird to the Pagans, anyway. (“What’s wrong with these people? They don’t celebrate the harvest OR the solstice! By Thor, what a bunch of weirdos.”)

What I really find odd about Christmas here, though, is that all of the same imagery exists here. All the graphics on Christmas products, as well as the decorations in the businesses, are all the same. They’re all winter plants like mistletoe, decorated conifers, snow, snowflakes, snowballs, cartoon characters in mittens and scarves, fireplaces, warm little cottages in snowy mountains, and strings of little lights which are barely perceptible given the fact that the sun doesn’t go down until almost 10:00 at night.


What’s even stranger is that all the food is the same. It’s time for light meals, fresh fruit, and cold drinks, but on the day of Christmas, it’s potato salad with plenty of mayonnaise and boiled eggs, suckling pig, ham, and all of those winter preserve-type foods like dry fruitcake, peanut brittle, and nougat with nuts and dried fruits. People are taking in about 5000 calories on one of the hottest days of the year.

The reason the guy dressed as Santa down at the local mall is dying from heat stroke is the cultural dominance of the United States. The Coca Cola Santa became the international standard. Part of the reason for this, in addition to the international cultural domination of the U.S. marketing models, is the television. “It’s A Wonderful Life”  and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” don’t just play on the TV in the U.S. every year, they are shown around the world.

Here in Argentina, there are a few air channels, and they have a couple of original series at a time, usually a game show or two and one or two soap operas or dramas, along with the occasional sitcom. Then there’s news, unscripted talk shows, and infotainment. The rest of the day the air channels show Mexican soap operas, dubbed Brasilian soap operas, and dubbed episodes of The Simpsons. After that, with the cable channels you get 24-hour news channels, public access, and some cooking and arts and crafts.

The rest of the cable channels are all foreign channels, showing content almost entirely from the United States. The same is true with movies. In the theatre, there may be only one or two Argentine or Spanish-language movies, sometimes more, but generally people don’t even bother seeing them, as promotion and advertising are almost nonexistent and people get more excited about Hollywood movies. Funding just doesn’t exist to make or promote many original movies here, and the state agency which loans startup capital for filmmaking (INCAA) has a very limited budget(by Hollywood standards). Most of the movies in the theatre, in the video store, or on TV are from the United States. And that includes the Christmas movies which take such an integral part in shaping the nature of the holiday in the eyes of the people.

Our culture, our language, and our movies, music, and TV shows are some of the only products we export more than we import. That’s where people around the world get the idea that everything is so nice in the U.S., and that everybody is rich and happy. Just look at a TV show like “Friends”, where they’re always complaining about not having any money, yet they live in gigantic apartments in nice neighborhoods in New York, and half the time they don’t even have jobs. Maybe it’s because people think actually showing what it looks like to be poor is aesthetically displeasing, or maybe remnants still exist of the age of cinema where they were deliberately trying to make it seem like America was the land with streets paved in gold, but even television and film characters who complain about being poor live in beautiful homes and work in impeccable offices.

There are a couple of differences between how Christmas is celebrated here and in the United States. Like New Year’s Eve is celebrated in the U.S., here Christmas and birthdays are celebrated when the clock strikes midnight the night before. Rather than sending the kids off to bed early so Santa can come, they stay up for a toast at midnight.

Another difference is that at midnight, people set off fireworks. They do the same on New Year’s Eve, and they set off more for New Year’s Eve than Christmas. It’s just natural, it seems, for people to set off fireworks for holidays during the summer. Think about that one when the Fourth of July comes around, and ask yourself if fireworks really represent independence in any way, or if it’s just fun to blow stuff up on a hot summer night.


One comment

  1. […] Shaddup! Happy New Year! Splat!” Former US Congresswoman sailing to Gaza to help Palestinians Feliz Navidad from South America: Snowflakes In Hell Life on Mars? Let’s look in the caves ITunes, Wal-Mart, Springsteen Killing Off the Independents […]

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