Mural on a Buenos Aires street (photo Sarah Ricks)

Mural on a Buenos Aires street (photo: Sarah Ricks)

Last Christmas was our first holiday season without grandparents to share in our traditional Christmas morning – opening presents by the fireplace, walking in our new pajamas to our local café, and hosting a holiday dinner for friends and family. We did not want to face treasured holiday rituals without any grandparents.

Christmas Away From Home

So we changed the subject. For the first time ever, our family did not celebrate Christmas at home. Instead, we left town to explore a city new to all of us: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Instead of our traditional Christmas morning by the fire, in Buenos Aires we did something completely different. We jumped on a subway to a Jewish neighborhood, Once, where we ate brunch at a Kosher pizzeria and wandered contentedly in a Judaica store.


Buenos Aires Has Summer During Our Winter

Seasons in Buenos Aires are the reverse of ours and the usual high in December is about 80. We discovered that in Buenos Aires, since Christmas Day is usually hot, family visits to ice cream shops are a Christmas tradition. One we eagerly adopted. (For Christmas traditions from around the world, see here.)

Buenos Aires ice cream, a delightful legacy of the city’s Italian immigrant roots, is lighter than gelato and softer than what Americans eat. Ice cream is everywhere. You are never more than a few blocks to the next shop that hand scoops towering pyramids of deliciousness. Porteños like their ice cream – so shops stay open until late night and even deliver to your door.

Dulce de leche is a rich caramel flavor that Porteños eat often, baked into morning pastries or desserts, but most frequently swirled into ice cream. A typical ice cream menu might have 4 or 5 varieties of dulce de leche. There are many good ice cream chains but our favorites were the artisanal heladerías that make small batches, such as Faricci. Try not to be put off by the drab exterior of Cadore, a hole in the wall that produces mouthwatering bittersweet chocolate (chocolate amargo), samboyón (like eggnog), chocolate chip (chocolate granizado), and of course the ubiquitious dulce de leche. Summery weather made it easy to yield to our teens’ wish for ice cream every day, usually twice a day.

Inside Teatro Colon Opera House (photo Sarah Ricks)

Inside Teatro Colon Opera House (photo: Sarah Ricks)

Buenos Aires Highlights for Teens

Our teenagers enjoyed the Recoleta Cemetery. The Cemetery has mausoleums grouped closely together along narrow paved walkways, many of them covered in sculpture. It feels like walking in a miniature city. Tweens and younger kids would also have fun exploring its grounds.

I was more excited than my teens to discover the eclectic architecture of Buenos Aires, which draws on Italian, French, and Spanish styles. The elegant apartment buildings, balconies, wrought iron, painted exteriors, and ornate sculptural details give Buenos Aires a European feel. Our tour of the palatial interior of Teatro Colon, the city’s newly refurbished 1908 opera house, was a highlight. As we roamed the city, I was struck by the variety of elegant doorways, from opulent wood to bright paint to modern glass. To the annoyance of my two teens, I stopped frequently to photograph the gorgeous doors.

Argentina’s fluctuating currency added additional excitement. Depending on the exchange rate you get – from a hotel, restaurant, or vendor – prices could vary by as much as 50%. (My best advice: bring American dollars. For information on the entry tax to enter Argentina, here.)

Our teens and we were surprised that Evita Peron is not simply a historical figure, one we learned about at the fascinating museum devoted to her. Rather, Evita is a continuing presence in the contemporary culture and politics of Buenos Aires. Her face is on public art and in advertising. The current President’s political posters include Evita’s image, seemingly conveying her endorsement.

Tranquil Japanese Garden park (photo Sarah Ricks)

Tranquil Japanese Garden park (photo: Sarah Ricks)

People-watching is easy in a city of walkers and sidewalk cafes. We enjoyed the vibrant street life, but were also grateful for the tranquil respite of the Japanese Garden, a landscaped 5-acre park with koi ponds, benches, and graceful walking bridges, all in the midst of the city.

Buenos Aires Felt Like a European City

Buenos Aires’ variety of good restaurants, funky designer shops, respect for modern design, habit of eating dinner at 10 or 11 pm – as well as its street litter and graffiti – all reminded us of a big city in Spain or Italy. For why we overcame our reluctance to watch a touristy tango show, see here.

Breaking our home-centered traditions to spend Christmas exploring a foreign city was a welcome change. We may return to our traditional Christmas. But until the rawness of mourning our parents has healed, exploring unfamiliar cities at Christmas may be our temporary family tradition.

Does anything about Buenos Aires, Argentina sound fun or interesting to you? Tell us in the comments.


Buenos Aires

Spending the winter holiday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where it was summer (Photo Philadelphia Traveling Mom Sarah Ricks)