Spending Christmas in Buenos Aires can be a real big shock to the system for any of us from the northern hemisphere. Listening to Christmas carols in 90 degree fahrenheit doesn’t make all that much sense “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” – you’re probably the only thing that will feel like it’s roasting on the open fire. You can forget about Walking in a Winter Wonderland and Frosty the Snowman is more likely to be a puddle with a carrot and a couple buttons floating around.
Ok, enough of the Christmas carol cliches. There are some great things about spending Christmas here in Buenos Aires, like you can go swimming! And there are fireworks! And you can go swimming! Not to mention a smorgasbord of yummy and for the most part chilled foods.
First up on the Argentine Christmas dining list is the vitel thone, a chilled roast beef served with a tuna-mayonnaise sauce is a staple at most family gatherings. Another favorite is ham with melon. You’ll also find a variety of salads, most notably the potato salad, and all will be accompanied by an abundance of champagne (some things never change!) But the real stars as always are the desserts; turrones, fruit cake, sweet breads, caramelized nuts and don’t fret there will probably be a good helping of dulce de leche close by!
For Argentines, Christmas is celebrated on the night of the 24th. Everyone arrives and puts their presents under the tree, while the party goes on and everyone eats. Children are not allowed to see the tree while they eat because this is the time that supposedly Santa, or Papa Noel, comes with the presents. Then at midnight the kids are released to the tree where the find all the wonderful gifts that Papa Noel left and the present opening madness ensues (again, some things never change!) Sometimes, in some families, there is one brave soul who takes on the task of dressing as Papa Noel. Now, you’d think that perhaps the Argentine version of Papa Noel would have been converted into someone who sports shorts and a tank top, or perhaps a bathing suit. But no, for the spirit of Christmas someone takes one for the team and dresses in the version of Santa idealized by the movies and more aptly suited for life on the North Pole and delights the imagination of the children while I’m sure they quickly become overcome with heat and dehydration!
Also, at midnight the sky starts to fill up the the various lights and sounds of fireworks shooting off all over the city and the party continues through the not so silent night (ok, maybe I wasn’t done with the carol cliches.)
On the 25th the family gets together again, maybe all a little hungover, to spend a tranquil day relaxing by the pool and eating the last night’s left overs!
So maybe it’s not the Christmas of your childhood memories but Christmas isn’t really about the rules of following traditions. It’s about reflecting and being grateful or the past year and looking hopefully towards the new year, getting together with family and loved ones, and enjoying life! And this is something that Argentines do spectacularly!