Christmas in Uruguay with a public holiday every 25 December, as do most countries around the world. As part of a 22-28 day season in the Christian calendar known as Advent, this festival commemorates Jesus’ birth.
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In Uruguay, Papa Noel is used instead of Santa’s English name. The adults in the house tell the kids that Santa Claus dwells on a star in the sky, and while the kids are looking up at the star, they hide the presents under the Christmas tree. Then someone yells out that Santa has dropped off the presents but is leaving. At precisely midnight, each and every one of these occurrences occurs.
Some people still have Christmas trees in their homes in Uruguay, although it’s getting harder to find them every year. It is considerably more common to have a nativity scene alone, usually displayed in a fireplace or some other prominent location inside the home. The Nativity scene does not begin until Christmas morning.
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Do locals celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah differently where you live now?
Christmas in Uruguay is not as big a deal as it is in the USofA… while there are still decorated places and Christmas trees, the “season” doesn’t really begin until the 8th of December, when Christmas trees are adorned in households. Toy shops advertise Santa Claus and his helpers (known as “Papa Noel”), but the holiday is more about spending time with loved ones and vacationing at Beach Destinations like Punta del Este than it is about exchanging presents. In reality, on January 6th, the “Three Magi Kings” (Los tres Reyes Magos) give more presents to youngsters than Santa Claus or even Papa Noel. On the evening of January 5th, people around the world put out hay and water for the Magi’s camels and put their shoes by their doors so the Magi might leave their gifts in them. Uruguay permits fireworks and firecrackers, so on December 24 and 31, at midnight, everyone buys them to set off and fill the entire country with noise and the scent of gunpowder. Apart from Christmas trees, which are not particularly large, people don’t put much effort into decorating the interior or exterior of their homes.
How to Spend New Year and Christmas in Uruguay
For Christmas and New Year, are you at a loss as to what to do? Locals and visitors alike often find themselves paralyzed by choice when faced with these days in Uruguay. Learn about the most well-known hotspots and customs, then get ready to leave at the stroke of midnight.
Go to the Rambla
The Rambla, or Montevideo Promenade, stretches continuously for 25 kilometers along the water’s edge. Most Uruguayans like getting some exercise by walking, riding, or rollerblading along the seafront. People pack the promenade and the beaches below it on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, enjoying drinks, music, and fireworks over the water. Since many eateries are closed or have limited menus these days, you can smartly pick up some lechon (cold roasted suckling pig, Uruguay’s traditional cuisine for these holidays) at any bakery and enjoy it as a beachside picnic.
This is a simple, cost-free, and one-of-a-kind experience that will leave a lasting impression.
Have a set dinner and a party
To celebrate Christmas Eve and New Year’s, several hotels and restaurants serve up delectable feasts followed by dance parties and open bars. While lechon is a staple at most meals, another popular traditional dish is grilled lamb. Salmon is a third, less common choice; if you want a vegetarian lunch, just let them know ahead of time. Before the major courses, the catering service serves many smaller dishes, including open pies, chicken, or turkey with sauces, stuffed ham, a salad bar, and, of course, a wide choice of desserts.
Have a cider fight in Mercado del Puerto
As Montevideo’s original and largest market, Mercado del Puerto is located conveniently close to the port. It’s more of a tourist trap these days, with restaurants serving regional specialties and stalls selling trinkets from Uruguay. There are also other art galleries and craft markets in the vicinity. The Port Market is a popular gathering place for parties on occasions like St. Patrick’s Day and Nostalgic Night. This certainly includes Christmas and New Year’s, when it is customary to have a street cider fight.
Witness office workers going crazy in celebration
Most offices in Uruguay are located in Centro and Ciudad Vieja, thus on December 31st, locals in these areas go out in style after clocking out. Office workers have a custom of tearing up their final agendas of the year and throwing them out the window as the year comes to a close. Keep an eye out for fluttering newspapers as these tend to be rather tall. When it’s extremely hot in the city, it’s another tradition to throw buckets of water down people’s windows, but most people don’t mind getting wet.
New Year’s Day tango
At 8 o’clock in the evening on New Year’s Day, residents of the Cordón neighborhood gather in the Lber Seregni square for a massive tango party. The group “Milonga Callejera” is hosting the event, and well-known tango dancers are performing. Everyone is welcome to attend, dance, or simply watch. It’s a free, outdoor party that brings together revelers from all over to celebrate the end of the first day of the new year. Tango is a partner dance that is sophisticated and complex, with music that is melancholy and profound.
Punta del Este
For Christmas and New Year, Punta del Este is the go-to location for visitors from Brazil, Argentina, Europe, the United States, and Uruguay. Set dinners and parties are typically offered by hotels and restaurants, and they tend to be very expensive and opulent. Thousands of people flock to the port and La Barra every weekend for the parties and nightclubs there, which have open drinks, music, and dancing until 11 a.m. There is something for everyone in Punta del Este, and you can celebrate the new year in peace by watching fireworks from the promenade or by staying up late to welcome the first sunrise of the year.
Only on foot, horseback, or legally permitted enormous monster trucks can you reach the tiny fishing community of Cabo Polonio. The dunes and the abundance of marine life (including one of the largest sea lion colonies in the world) justify designating this area as a protected nature reserve. There is no electricity or water in Cabo Polonio, so you will see stars like you’ve never seen before at Christmas and New Year’s. In Cabo, parties are celebrated by sitting around a campfire, drinking beer with strangers, and watching fireworks explode over the sky.