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Christmas in Antarctica

A rarely seen sight in Antarctica as adelie penguins get ready for the big day

What is Christmas like in Antarctica?

Christmas in Antarctica comes in the middle of the austral summer. Christmas is a northern hemisphere festival that originated in the midwinter celebrations of pagan peoples and was later taken on by Christians in order to embrace the ancient midwinter feasts that weren't simply going to go away because a new religion had come along.

In consequence Christmas doesn't fit terribly comfortably into the southern hemisphere scheme of things. People in Antarctica at Christmas time are either working on scientific stations or they are tourists on a cruise.

The cruise people are ok as they're having a fabulous vacation and have chosen the timing.

How do those on the scientific stations celebrate Christmas in Antarctica?


How big a celebration is Christmas in Antarctica?

Not very - is the simple answer. Summer on scientific bases (and remember, the great majority of people in Antarctica at any one time are on scientific bases, tourist numbers are higher overall but they usually spend just 1-2 weeks there) is a time of great activity and comes right in the middle of the time limited work season. The majority of personnel on scientific bases are there for the summer only and they know they're going to Antarctica to work.

In addition to this everyone is away from their family and loved ones and with a group of people who vary from maybe a few close friends if they're lucky to casual acquaintances to those they wouldn't choose to spend any time with at all.

There is also none of the build-up to Christmas that exists in much of the world. No advertising on TV (no TV), no articles in newspapers and magazines (no regular newspapers and magazines), no street decorations (no streets), no shopping (no shops) and none of the elaborate planning and shared family traditions.

Some however positively enjoy the fact that there isn't any of the last-minute shopping, family obligations or other stress inducing aspects of the season!

A Christmas tree made from assorted junk at the South Pole Station
the red and white stripy barbers pole in the center of the circle of flags is the South Pole marker - 2007

So is there a celebration?

There certainly is! Christmas day is usually a non-working day for most people, though many will also be doing their jobs for part of the day at least.

Details depend on the nationality of the base and on the prevailing base culture, but pretty much all Antarctic bases will have a slap-up Christmas meal and a party of some type. Volunteers often help the base cook/s prepare the special meal.

Presents tend not to be exchanged between base members as there's not really anywhere to buy them from! Shopping as recreation is definitely not on the list of Antarctic things to do.

A party in the evening tends to be the main event. Dinner will be as traditional as possible in the circumstances, though fresh vegetables and meat are not easy to come by and so may be supplemented with dried, tinned or frozen varieties.

Fancy dress is always a great Antarctic favourite (costumes often taking much of the day to make*), usually with some theme or other. If there is anyone on base who can sing or play an instrument (even if pretty awfully) then they will stand up and do their bit. Many base members will have presents from home that may well have arrived months earlier and are saved until Christmas to be opened.

Some people may phone home via a satellite link if this is possible, and most send emails and pictures or update their blogs, communication has been revolutionized in Antarctica more so than any where else probably by the advent of the internet.

Field parties in particular experience a particularly different sort of Christmas in a tent or hut miles from anywhere with maybe just one other person or a disparate group of varied nationalities. Such Christmases are probably not dissimilar to those celebrated by the earliest Antarctic explorers who would save back treats such as plum pudding and whisky or rum for Christmas day to toast those absent friends and family so far away.

(* The greatest dedication to fancy dress I came across in Antarctica was from a guy who shaved his head and then painted the top half of his body white with a white skirt from the waist down - he came as a snow-man.)

What's unusual about Christmas in Antarctica?

Well apart from place, company and circumstances - Christmas Day comes just a few days after not the shortest day as in the northern hemisphere - but the longest day in the southern hemisphere.

In many places in Antarctica, Christmas Day is celebrated in 24 hour daylight. Even the furthest north Antarctic places have only about an hour or so of dusk between sun down and sun up.

A White Christmas is a pretty good bet! - but somehow doesn't feel so special.

Christmas Day afternoon strolls however are very special as depending on where you are, the wildlife could be spectacular and the scenery most certainly will be.

The day after Christmas day is usually just another ordinary working day with just a bit of respite with New Year.

Race Around the World

There has arisen a tradition at the American Amundsen/Scott base at the South Pole for a "Race Around the World" that takes place on Christmas Day. All manner of transport is used to travel around the geographic South Pole so meaning that in passing through all time zones and lines of Longitude, the participants have raced around the world. The course actually goes around three times and covers two miles.


Antarctic round the world race recipe

Make a version of this race yourself as a fruity indulgent treat for Christmas or any other time of the year.

Christmas the alternatives

1/ One year, because we knew what Christmas would be like and not a proper celebration, we decided to have it in October - still officially in the winter as no ships had yet arrived and wouldn't for over a month. It was much more enjoyable than the "real" one as we spent the time to do it all properly :o)

2/ The real celebration in Antarctica is Mid Winter around Mid Winters Day on June the 21st, the shortest and darkest day of the year. It often consists of a week of celebration and events, with the absence of stores or online shopping with delivery in time, base personnel make each other gifts on an Antarctic theme from materials found on base.


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