A winter wonderland without the winter
The weeks leading up to Christmas in Buenos Aires bring a set of cultural traditions which many people from the northern hemisphere will find reassuringly (or depressingly, depending on your view) familiar. On the one hand, similarities with the ways in which the Christmas festival is celebrated elsewhere should not be surprising given the particularly strong European influence in Buenos Aires (the origins of which lie in the unprecedented waves of immigration which occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century), as well as the ever-increasing global comercialisation of La Navidad. However, while the decor in the temporary Christmas shops which pop up across the city speak of colder climes, with snowdrops, Christmas trees, icicles, fairy lights and the like, the weather gives the spectacle a wholly different ambience. The start of December brings much warmer and humid weather to the city, encouraging porteños to spend more time outdoors in the plazas, the gardens and terrazas of its countless bars and restaurants. Whilst in colder parts of the world the people tend to hibernate for the harsher winter months, the arrival of Christmas in Buenos Aires brings a summery spirit and positivity. Moreover, this is when the city really comes alive in a cultural sense, hosting numerous national and international music, food/drink, theatre and film festivals. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Argentina at this time of year, which can be especially comforting for extranjeros (or foreigners) spending Christmas away from friends and families back home. (www.couchsurfing.org is also a great resource for meeting Argentines and foreigners who are looking to spend Christmas with other people in Buenos Aires; a kind of adopted family Christmas experience!)
For porteños, work begins to wind down in the two weeks before Christmas, while the social calendar starts to become more complicated. Young people in particular organise parties and gatherings with friends to celebrate la Navidad and the arrival of summer holidays which run until February (many porteños tend to escape the city heat in January, visiting beaches in Uruguay or Mar del Plata to the south of Buenos Aires. Interestingly, if you can handle the heat this is a great time to really get to know the city as it is slightly less crowded). Christmas itself is largely a family affair for many Argentines, with the 24th being an especially important date. Families typically gather in their homes to have a large meal together (with traditional dishes such as vital toné (tuna with a tasty sauce), salads and turkey, while others enjoy an asado or BBQ) before opening presents at midnight. Argentina is a predominantly Catholic society and many people respect the religious traditions by attending church over the Christmas period, but this is by no means seen as an ‘obligation’ and many choose not to go. Christmas day is another intimate family affair, which often sees porteños spend the day with different family members to the previous day (the joys of family politics would seem to be universal, especially during the Christmas break). There are some street parties during the Christmas week but these are specific to certain areas and are usually organized amongst friends, family and neighbours. Many shops open up again the following day and people look to take advantage of the bargains on offer in the sales, which have become widespread in shopping centres across the city.
Visitors from Europe and North America will find in Buenos Aires a mixture of recognisable Christmas traditions, but with an added Latin and summery twist. Although porteños enjoy a bit of down-time with their family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, this is not a city which sleeps for long and you’ll find plenty of things to keep you busy if you decide to celebrate la Navidad in Buenos Aires.