It’s cold outside, sleigh bells are ringing and we want to snuggle up by the hearth with some Christmas television, right? Well, not in Buenos Aires! Leave the gloves, bobble hats and Christmas jumpers at home, because in one of the southern hemisphere’s liveliest and most exciting cities, Christmas marks the start of the summer holidays, making it a celebration for making new friends outside in the sun – or in the clubs and bars but with a refreshing cocktail in hand!
Much of our Christmas iconography comes from Europe, so expect to see Christmas trees and decorations in the shopping malls and even the odd Santa Clause sweltering in his red coat amid average highs of 28ºC / 82ºC, but here Christmas means fun in the sun and locals gearing up for the long school summer holidays through January and February. So slap on some sun screen, grab a bottle of local bubbly and enjoy. Take advantage of some last-minute al fresco shopping for presents at the outdoor antiques and craft markets in San Telmo and Recoleta, soak up the lively festive holiday atmosphere catching impromptu cultural expressions and live music in streets and parks, and dine outside at the street tables at the bars and restaurants in Puerto Madero and Palermo. For the ultimate people watching, admire tango dancers’ moves at the open-air milongas in squares like Plaza Dorrego or the Barrancas de Belgrano, while for a more polished experience, many of the big tango dinner-shows function even on Christmas Day, offering a very different form of Christmas entertainment.
The most important Christmas meal is on the evening of December 24 rather than during the day on the 25th, and since here in Buenos Aires we like to stay up late, the meal goes on well past midnight. For most of us, we celebrate this Christmas Eve dinner at home in the garden or on the terrace or balcony with family and friends. Someone might even dress up as Santa to deliver presents to the children in the family. As for food, beef of course is a staple of Christmas cuisine and many people will host friends and family in their garden or terrace with the flames going on the parrilla from the early evening for a traditional “asado” or barbecue. Other Christmas favourites include legacies of the city’s Italian and Spanish heritage, and the hot weather means that cold dishes such as tongue in vinegar and the Italian dish of veal Vitello tonnato, known locally as Vitel toné and salads are popular. To drink, malbec, Fernet and cola, and a bottle of bubbly from a vineyard in Mendoza to uncork at midnight as the fireworks go off.
So Father Christmas has been and gone, the presents have all been opened, and the fireworks have finished. Time for bed, right? Not at all. Once the family get-togethers start winding down, at around 3am the nightclubs start opening. Now that people have celebrated with the family, it’s time to hit the town to celebrate with friends, and – why not? – with strangers too. There are clubs all over town, from the super clubs on the Costanera Norte to hip nightspots in Palermo and more bohemian hangouts in Almagro and Villa Crespo. Expect the party to go one late, way after the sun rises on Christmas Day. See more about Porteño nightlife here.
The morning after, you might want to catch up on some sleep, but after enjoying a lazy lie in there are plenty of things to enjoy in and around the city on Christmas Day. Unlike in many cities, although frequency is reduced, public transport continues to run throughout Christmas Day, so it’s still easy to get around the city, and Christmas Day is perfect for enjoying a picnic in one of the city’s many parks and green spaces. Take it easy with a book under the shade of a tree in Parque Tres de Febrero, or go local and trying the popular Argentine infusion mate – someone is sure to offer you a taste! – or enjoy an ice cream and soak up the atmosphere with a stroll along the southern riverside. And if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can take a train out to Tigre to for a boat ride exploring the intricate waterways of the Paraná River Delta.
Many people take advantage of Christmas to rent in a quinta, or country house, on the outskirts of the city. From the centre of town, in little over an hour you can be in the tranquil countryside the Pampas, grass flatlands famous for their country traditions. Quintas often come equipped with swimming pools and barbeque facilities, making them a perfect option to pack up for a couple of days of pure relaxation. For an all-inclusive option without the need to worry about catering, rather than a quinta you might consider an estancia. These working ranches usually have a family living on site and offer a real Argentine pampa experience. Enjoy a day or two riding horses, napping beneath trees after a filling asado, and walking the country paths.