Just in the nick of time, I am back to save you from the depths of holiday hell. This is of course, assuming that you all hate the holidays, which is probably a generous over-estimation. Anyway, it’s as if December and family dysfunction go hand in hand, sparing no one. Though self-medicating is a reliable tactic, grown-up hangovers are worse than getting stuck next to your touchy-feely relative at the Christmas buffet. The best defense is a good offense, so let’s face the shitstorm head on and rock it out before we binge on champagne and pan dulce.
This is my second Christmas in Argentina, and while I am thrilled to spend it with my friends who have really made me feel at home here, I am not looking forward to the classic Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) meal. Mayonnaise-drenched cold meat and food that my grandmother would eat?! How can I politely decline this? Should I bring my own meal? I don’t want to spend that night home alone in my apartment eating microwavable empanadas. – Hungry Houseguest
Dear Egotistical Eater,
Ah yes. Tomes could be written on the topic of the traditional Argentine Christmas Eve meal. “Retro” has always been a classic style choice, but I’m not sure when it was decided that the culinary offering to celebrate the birth of Jesus had to include so much mayonnaise and boiled meat. If you’re from the northern hemisphere, you’ll need to remind yourself that Christmas in Argentina implies crazy humidity and temperatures that will melt your face off. Therefore, using the oven for anything other than storing out of season sweaters is pretty much out of the question. Have a little sympathy for these poor tropical people. I assume you were treated to the full monty at your last porteño Christmas, with the pionono and the vitel thoné, which ensued in heavy duty trauma. If you didn’t throw up all over yourself, you win a gold star. Because that shit is not appetizing, and I eat everything (well, everything except that and mondongo. Spongy mystery meat that reeks of smelly wet dog will haunt your nightmares for decades.).
Every host loves a guest who contributes, so it would be wonderful if you asked to bring a dish to share with the group. Make sure you don’t mention that you hate everything that will be on offer at the party – go for the angle that you want to bring a little of your own culture to the Argentine fete. A nice salad comprised of something other than lettuce, tomato and onion will be sure to wow about 98 percent of the people in attendance. Add a couple of bottles of wine to the mix and soon you’ll be the favorite attendee of all time. You’re welcome.
If you aren’t sure what the table spread will entail, just stuff your face with those emps before you leave the house. You’ll be on par with everyone else there, anyway, since it’s time to cuidarse now that summer is here, and being seen eating in public is worthy of capital punishment. Remember: no one wants a mayonnaise eating fattie blocking their view of the ocean from Bikini Beach during the first quincena de enero. No one.
Dear Página: My girlfriend insists that her family’s Christmas celebration is the only one that matters. But I want to spend time with my family on Christmas, since I love my traditions and don’t want to give them up. Obviously if I can avoid spending the holiday apart from her, that would be cool. – Concerned Caroler
Dear Selfish Santa,
Given that I’ve been drinking a lot of wine, I am envisioning this family duel as something of a bit of National Lampoon’s Christmas competition. I’m probably way off, but let me just have my moment. … Ok, I am back. It’s understandable that both you and your girlfriend think that your respective family’s celebrations are “THE BEST BECAUSE OMG” but love implies compromise (does it? The jury’s still out I think). Try to find some middle ground here: spend Christmas Eve with one family and have Christmas dinner with the other. Since you aren’t married, it’s not like you’re obligated to spend the holiday with her (though if you’re Argentine and have been dating for 13 years it’s basically like you’re married, amirite?), though it’s nice to make the effort if you enjoy spending time with them.
This isn’t really an earth-shattering problem in my opinion, so I am assuming this issue goes deeper. “I love my traditions and don’t want to give them up” – we get it, your family rules and no one does it like you guys (high five!). But if you’re having a hard time making room for your girlfriend and her family in your life, you’re either not ready to commit to this little lady or you just need to spend a few months in therapy. Work through your mommy issues and get back to me before Easter; we should be back on track by then, ready to make it rain with chocolate eggs wrapped in shiny paper.
Dear Página: What the hell am I supposed to buy my mother in law? She kind of scares the crap out of me, but I have to get her something, right? – Scared Son-in-Law
Dear Nervous Nelly,
Let’s take a minute to think seriously about this one. Your relationship with her will dictate what kind of gift will be appropriate for this situation. Since you’re telling me that the woman leaves you shakin’ in your boots, I am going to assume that you aren’t thick as thieves (unless you’re a pathological liar and really good at faking it). Careful then: anything you give her could be misinterpreted as an attack on her person. The blazer you got her is too big – this automatically transforms into your thinking she’s some obese cow. Is that cool skirt you found at a new boutique too small? Jesus, she’s not a 20 year old Dotto model, OK?! Get off her back!! She’s a mother of three, for crying out loud.
I would avoid the clothing route altogether, unless you’re going for a lovely wrap (if necessary, pull out the big guns) or something that doesn’t come in a quantifiable size.
If she’s like most women, your suegra will enjoy a nice piece of jewelry. Something in between a shitty handmade hippie bracelet from the San Telmo fair and a bespoke creation from local heroes Jean Pierre should do the trick. Statement necklaces and bangles always make a splash at posh luncheons and impromptu hair salon gossip sessions, you know.
Accompany this with a lovely box of chocolates from Vasalissa and you should be golden (unless your suegra happens to have a sticky relationship with food, too. See how complicated this can get?). Just remember to write a beautiful handwritten note and you’ll ensure your spot at the family table for years to come. That is, unless you’re trying to sabotage your relationship. In that case you should definitely buy the tacky oversized blazer.
Do we feel a bit more prepared to face this miserable time of year yet? Good. Now, as my holiday gift to each and every one of you, please find some helpful hints and resources that will guide you through this torturous next few weeks. Enjoy!