Sunday, December 12, 2010

Apple #497: Christmas in Antarctica

The next place to visit in our little trip to Christmases in different places is Antarctica.

In Antarctica, instead of a sleigh, Santa arrives on a Ski-doo.
(Photo from Professor Eric Hiatt's page about McMurdo Station)

  • Christmas in a place where everything is going to be covered in snow, guaranteed might sound really great.  But there are some unusual things about Antarctica that make Christmas a little unusual.
  • Since Antarctica is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas happens at the height of summer.  A snowy summer, yes, but it's still summer.
  • Also because of its position on the globe, on Christmas Day, daylight lasts twenty-four hours, or close to it.  The darkest it may get is about an hour's worth of dusk.

Isn't that nice? The penguins in Antarctica send Christmas cards.
(Cards available from
(Actually, check out what the penguins are really doing on Christmas. This is a beautiful photo, but I suspect it's copyrighted.)

    • Most of the people in Antarctica are there working at a research station, or they're on a cruise ship.  
    • Because of the relative lack of TV and radio and stores all decorated for the holiday, there's less of a general build-up to the holiday.  
    • Most of the people at the research centers come from lots of different places from around the world, which can make it difficult to share traditions together.
    • It's also hard for people to get stuff shipped to them in Antarctica.  For example, live Christmas trees tend to be in pretty rough shape by the time they make it down there.

    There are three research stations in Antarctica, McMurdo, Amundsen/Scott, and Palmer. For some reason, this map only shows two, not Scott.
    (Map from Christmas in Antarctica)

    • Of the three research centers, McMurdo is by far the largest with about 1200 people, so it's like a small town. 
    • Scott base is much smaller, with about 100 people, while Palmer has only 43.  Most of the people at Palmer go to Scott or McMurdo at some point around Christmas to celebrate.
    • In McMurdo, since it's more like a town, there are a lot more activities.  People go caroling, they host parties, or they go out to one of the nightclubs or coffee shops.  McMurdo also has a Christmas buffet. Judging from some of the more recent blog postings about Christmas there, they seem to be doing all right in the food department in general.

    This is the food room at McMurdo.  This is where the food is stored for everyone on base.  These researchers are organizing food that they'll take with them when they go out on a field expedition.
    (Photo from Professor Eric Hiatt's page about McMurdo Station)

    • At Palmer, they start baking weeks in advance, and they have a sugar cookie bake-off.  At Scott, they have a big dinner around 7 pm on Christmas Eve.  One year they had turkey, ham, and new potatoes, to name a few of the dishes.

    These folks all work together at McMurdo, and they're having their Christmas feast.  On the menu: prime rib, roast duck, crab legs, shrimp, and lots of desserts.
    (Photo from Hot Stuff in Antarctica)

    • While there isn't a whole lot of present-exchanging on Christmas Day, in the days leading up to the 25th, an "elf" may deliver a stocking or a jingle bell ornament or a present to an unsuspecting person. 
    • People also find ways to decorate.  Some people spray paint the cables in Christmas colors.  Others hang all sorts of things from kitchen utensils to scientific equipment from the ceiling with red ribbons.  Though they can't get live trees, they do have artificial trees.

    Here are some of the decorations in McMurdo, 2008.  That stuff beneath the gingerbread houses is a huge tray of lots of different kinds of cheese.
    (Photo from Hot Stuff in Antarctica)

    • Fancy-dress, or costume, parties are also a big hit around Christmas time. The costumes are quite home-made, given the relative lack of stuff available.  One such costume was a guy who came as a snowman.  He shaved his head, painted the top half of his body white and wore a white skirt.  
    • December in Antarctica is relatively balmy (it's about 30 degrees there right now).  But still, going shirtless in 30 degree weather shows true dedication!
    • One Christmas Day activity that has become something of a tradition is the Race Around the World.  Participants go to the true South Pole and, using their means of transport of choice (sleds, skis, snowboards, snowshoes, snowmobiles, even stilts!), they race each other in a circle around the South Pole.  Though they turn in a fairly small circle (three times around is 2.5 miles), they step in each of the time zones of the world so when they are finished, they say they have traveled around the world.

    Racers, heading off on the course around the world. It's a bit of a wacky event, and some people dress in costumes, or they wear flags as capes.
    (Photo from PolarTrec)

    Carpenters, participating in the race.
    (Photo from PolarTrec)

    • Usually most people take some time out of the day to communicate with family members back home. They might exchange e-mails, or post notices on their blogs, or if possible, phone home using a satellite link.
    • Other people take walks to various nearby points of interest, or they have a barbecue.  Most people stay active for most of the day because of the 24 hours of daylight.
    • By the time the Christmas celebrations have ended, one student spending the holidays in Antarctica writes, "our group will be half-way through our one-week supply of fresh food and well into our days without showers."

    Merry Christmas from the South Pole!
    (Elke Bergholz, just after completing the Race Around the World. Photo from PolarTrec.)

    Cool Antarctica, Christmas in Antarctica 
    Patty Inglish, HubPages, Christmas in Antarctica
    University of Waikato, White Christmas in Antarctica
    Elke Bergholz, PolarTrec, Race around the world at the South Pole
    Carol Fey, Hot Stuff in Antarctica, Christmas in Antarctica

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