Festivals of all kinds, both religious, celebrating local patrons, and secular, showing off produce such as handicrafts, olives, goats or wine, are good excuses for much partying and pomp in Argentina, particularly the closer you get to the country’s northern neighbours, with their strong festival traditions.
Although carnival in Argentina cannot quite compete with Brazil, the nearer you approach that country the more gusto you will see Carnaval celebrated with: Argentina’s premier parades are found at Gualeguaychú, while a boisterous time can also be had in Salta and all along the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Other major festivals are November’s celebration of pampas culture, the Fiesta de la Tradición, in San Antonio de Areco and elsewhere, September’s religious Fiesta del Milagro in Salta and Mendoza’s wine-inspired Fiesta de la Vendimia in March.
Owing to its attachment to tradition and its high proportion of ethnic communities, the Northwest has maintained or revived more pre-Hispanic festivals than any other Argentine region – nearly every village seems to have one. There are also many religious and secular celebrations observed here that are a blend of indigenous and imported customs, so subtly melded that the elements are indistinguishable: carnival, Holy Week and saints’ days predominate among the latter. January 6 is the date of processions in Belén in honour of the Virgin Mary. In the second half of January, Tilcara holds its annual bean-feast, followed by Humahuaca’s tribute to the Virgen de Candelaria on February 2. Pachamama, the Mother Earth deity dear to the indigenous peoples, is feted on February 6 in Purmamarca and Amaicha, where festivities last a whole week. Cheese fans should head for Tafí del Valle, where the Fiesta Nacional del Queso takes place in early February. The Serenata Cafayateña is a folk jamboree held on the weekend following Shrove Tuesday in Cafayate. Londres hosts a lively walnut festival in early February, while Fiambalá’s Festival del Camino Hacia el Nuevo Sol takes place on February 18 and 19. The third Wednesday of the month sees the Fiesta Nacional del Aguardiente in Valle Viejo, and the third Thursday the hangover. In March, the Feria Artesanal y Ganadera de la Puna transforms normally quiet Antofagasta de la Sierra. March 19, St Joseph’s Day, is a red-letter day in Cachi, while a major pilgrimage, with night vigils and processions, converges on the tiny village of Puerta de San José, near Belén, on March 18 and 19.
Holy Week is a serious affair throughout the region but the highlights are Maundy Thursday at Yavi, the pilgrimage to El Señor de la Peña at Aimogasta, in northern La Rioja Province, and the procession of the Virgen de Punta Corral, from Punta Corral to Tumbaya. A week after Easter sees a minor performance of the momentous rituals in honour of the Virgen del Valle, in Catamarca. May kicks off with Santa Cruz celebrations at Uquía, on May 4, while May 25 is celebrated in El Rodeo, in Catamarca Province, by a destreza criolla – or rodeo – and St John’s Day, June 24, is a major feast throughout the region. Late July is when Catamarca stages one of the country’s biggest folk and crafts festivals, the Festival Nacional del Poncho. St James’ Day, July 25, is a major holiday in Humahuaca.
Argentina’s only bullfight, an unusually bloodless tradition, is the main event at Assumption celebrations held at Casabindo on August 15. Santa Rosa de Lima is honoured at Purmamarca on August 30. Salta’s big feast thanks God for the Virgin of the Miracle during the nine days leading up to September 15 while Iruya holds a highly photogenic feast for Our Lady of the Rosary on the first Sunday in October. In early October, it’s Cafayate’s turn to honour the Virgin. Two Sundays later (usually around October 20), La Quiaca holds its Fiesta de la Ollas, or “Manca Fiesta”. All Souls’ Day and the Day of the Dead, November 1 and 2, are important feasts all along the Quebrada de Humahuaca and especially in Antofagasta de la Sierra. The city of Catamarca attracts thousands of pilgrims for processions involving the Virgen del Valle, on December 8. Angastaco hosts a gaucho festival in honour of the Virgin around the same time.
On the whole, holidays such as Christmas and Easter are more religious, family-focused occasions than they are in Europe and the US. Although some traditions – such as the European custom of eating chocolate eggs at Easter – are starting to take off, the festivals are generally a lot less commercial, and the run-up to them doesn’t start two months beforehand. Christmas is celebrated more on Christmas Eve evening than during Christmas Day – midnight on December 24 (and again on December 31) is a great time to be in Buenos Aires, particularly if you have a high vantage point from which to watch the sky explode with fireworks. Imported festivals such as St Valentine’s and Halloween are also becoming increasingly popular, while more home-grown festivals include the Día de las Malvinas (June 10), the day the South Atlantic conflict ended, remembered with ceremonies, and the Día de la Primavera (September 21), when young people gather in parks to picnic and drink cheap wine.