Many people ask me what it’s like to celebrate the holidays in Buenos Aires. Well, it’s certainly different than celebrating anywhere it’s less than 35°C (95°F) out. Yes, it is summer here — sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few of my American friends back home never realized the southern hemisphere operates on the opposite schedule when it comes to seasons.
A Buenos Aires holiday season is hot, humid and sticky – you shower twice a day, and don’t even think about wearing pants. This, of course, does not stop anyone from using winter-themed holiday decorations. Garlands, lights, Christmas trees and Santa Claus are just as prevalent here as they are up north, although I will admit it’s a bit strange to hear “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” in Starbucks, where you’re ordering an iced coffee and feeling like your clothes are about to melt off of you. But what would a holiday season be without Starbucks’ contribution to holiday consumer cheer?
Consumerism is just as widespread as it is in the United States, as well. Moving to Buenos Aires, you won’t escape the pressure to buy gifts for everyone and their mother – while there aren’t so many American brands here, the Argentine ones have figured out how to do their best to convince us to buy, buy, buy. In fact, marketing campaigns here may be just as good as in the United States, if not better.
Argentines have plenty of nearby vacation spots where they may spend up to a month vacationing – God bless ‘em. They might reserve a spot at the beach in Uruguay (Punta del Este, for those who want something sophisticated and, well, expensive; and Cabo Polonio or Punta del Diablo for the hippies), Chile (Valparaiso and surrounding areas are divine) or Brazil (Florianopolis or, duh, Rio). Argentina has its own beaches as well — Mar del Plata, Cariló and Pinamar are popular choices.
The fact that it is summer down here, and so hot you can barely motivate yourself to leave your house to buy toilet paper, takes everyone’s
intensity and anxiety down a notch. In fact, It’s hard to stress too much about anything in December in Buenos Aires – everyone will constantly remind you that not much happens here in the way of business or productivity, so what do you do? There are the occasional grumpy people on the subway (being packed like sardines in a subway car, your hand squished between strangers’ body parts, can put you in a bad mood.) But for the most part, there is a breed of “chill” that spreads throughout the entire city.
Up in the northern hemisphere, while we all love the holidays, I’d argue that few people think of it as a particularly relaxing time. It’s winter, so that doesn’t help — being cold has a tendency to bring out the frigid bitchiness in all of us. And in return, everything, from buying presents to the thought of being stuck in a house full of family, stresses us out. We even stress about making New Year’s plans and then, New Year’s resolutions. Down here, there’s none of that. You can’t make New Year’s resolutions in a country so unpredictable, anyway!
I’ve never thought of the end of the year as a time to relax, reflect and take a real solid break from life until I spent the holidays here. I have also been eating asados about every other day and finding an excuse to imbibe alcoholic beverages, well, more than I eat asados, so you do the math. The surge in the popularity of summer aperitifs like Cinzano, Cynar and Campari doesn’t help – cut up a few fresh fruit to mix with the alcohol and soda, and you’ll be able to convince yourself you’re classy enough not to feel bad about finishing the entire bottle.
The asados are dangerous as well. Sure, you’ll go to a lot of holiday parties in the U.S., but the snacks you eat there are child’s play compared to living on a diet of blood sausage, chorizo, pork and ten different cuts of beef for an entire month (or more). Every few days, a new friend will propose an asado on a terrace or on a quinta, and who in their right mind will reject an invitation like that to give your stomach a break? Nobody.
For those of us who celebrate Christmas, here in Argentina, the big night is Christmas Eve. Gifts are exchanged and a large meal is prepared at night. Christmas day, itself, is not as big of a deal. Then you relax for a few more days, finish a few more bottles of Campari, eat two or three more asados, and next thing you know, it’s New Year’s Eve.
The best part about New Year’s here is fireworks – fireworks everywhere, big and small, light up the sky as people set them off from urban spaces usually small and dangerous enough to set a couple apartments or people on fire if you’re not careful.
But New Year’s is a time of optimism, so most porteños will ignore the large risk they are taking and light the wick while they hope for the best – hey, Argentines are great at that – and we love ‘em for it, don’t we.