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Christmas in Buenos Aires falls right in the middle of the sweltering city summer, so it’s a far cry from the wintry celebration that many look forward to in the northern hemisphere. Christmas isn’t actually a big deal in Argentina, with many only getting the afternoon of the 24th and the day of the 25th off work. Here is how to make the most of Christmas in Buenos Aires, though the odds may be against you.
Christmas in Buenos Aires sends the city into craziness overload, being that it falls at the same time the year is ending and summer holidays are beginning. It’s common to hear locals utter the phrase “I just can’t wait for the year to end” when asked if they are ready for the holidays, and if you stay here long enough you will notice the madness thermometer rising a few degrees above normal in the run up to Christmas. But don’t give in and join the maddening masses – relax, it’s Christmas!
That being said, you might have had enough of the extreme chaos of the city after a while, so it’s a good thing there are plenty of escape options to get out of Buenos Aires if you can’t handle the heat (literally) any longer. In January the city virtually empties, with people spending summers at the coast or across the water in Uruguay. Beat the crowds and enjoy a few idyllic days at a coastal or country retreat before the holidaymakers arrive.
If you want to stay local, one of your best options is heading out to a quinta, or a country house. One of the best things about Buenos Aires is its proximity to the pampa, or grass flatlands, which lie just outside the General Paz highway that marks the end of the city. From the centre of town, in a hour or so you can be in the beautiful wilds of the calming countryside, and renting a quinta for a few days is the ideal escape from the urban metropolis. Quintas usually come equipped with swimming pools and barbeque facilities, so be sure to bring everything necessary to enjoy the tranquility of the pastures.
If you don’t fancy the self-catering quinta option, head to an estancia outside the city. These ranches or farms usually have a family living on site, and some offer lodgings over the Christmas period so you can get the real Argentina pampa experience. Spend a day or two in the country riding horses, napping in the long grass and walking the country paths that border soy plantations or fields of sunflowers. And of course, binge on the delicious home-cooked meals that are made in the estancias, all washed down with gallons of local Malbec.
For many in the northern hemisphere, Christmas is a time of heavy consumerism that often starts in October, putting a huge pressure on parents and, well, anyone really, to buy tons of gifts and spend unthinkable amounts of money. However, for anyone looking for a break from the all-powerful effects of advertising disguised as Christmas cheer, Argentina is the answer. You will barely see any references to the holiday season save for a few handwritten signs in shop windows and a gaudy tree stationed at the front of the shopping centers. But more often than not, it is surprisingly easy to forget that Christmas is even happening, such is the low-key nature of this event in Argentina.
Maybe one reason for the above is the fact that Christmas is really only celebrated for one night – not the two weeks of holidays that people get in other parts of the world. So the night of the 24th is when it all goes down. Usually Argentines spend this night dining with their family, but after 12am all bets are off. Friends gather in bars and clubs that opening specially after midnight to host the revelers who party the night away once the festivities are celebrated with their families at home.
While Christmas dinner up north is a feast of roasts and turkey and gravy that leave you opening the top button of your jeans, down in the south it’s an altogether lighter culinary affair. It’s simply too hot to deal with ovens and turkeys, so Russian salads with potato and mayonnaise, cold cuts of meat and vegetable slices are the order of the day at Christmas in Argentina. Rest assured, given the temperatures that often reach 40 degrees around Christmas, you will not be missing your turkey and stuffing.
Fireworks are as big a thing here at Christmas and New Year as they are anywhere else, and it is common for them to be set off at midnight on the 24th. If you are lucky enough to be staying somewhere with a roof terrace, head upstairs to see the fireworks light up the night sky. Buenos Aires is a very flat city so there are no high points from which you can see the fireworks without being on a terrace, but more often than not wherever you are will have some sort of viewing spot up top.
Once the fireworks are done and parents have bid their children, young and old, goodnight, it’s time to hit the town. Clubs all over town, whether the superclubs on the Costanera Norte, the hipster joints in Palermo or the hippy hangouts of Almagro, welcome people through their doors to party until the wee hours, seeing as this is the only night that people have free. Argentines like to get loose on the night of the 24th, so bring your A-game to the party.
Seeing at the 24th is the big night, it is down to the 25th to provide Argentines with some r’n’r before they get back to work the day after. The 25th, Christmas Day to the rest of us, is a time for being hungover and nursing your wounds from the night before. No one will judge you for Netflix and chilling for the entirety of the day, so take it easy. It’s what Jesus would want.