Christmas Day is a busy time in Antarctica, coming along slap-bang in the middle of the hectic summer season. However, wherever you are in the world, it is still a great opportunity to eat too much and sing Christmas carols, so we made a bit of an effort here at Rothera.
Christmas Eve was a reasonably quiet day. Big grey clouds overshadowed the base and opened up during the morning to dump a few inches of fresh powder snow, causing much excitement among the skiers and snowboarders. The poor weather meant that no flying could take place out of Rothera, so I was able to join the others for some board games in the bar before dinner.
Once we had been fed, the Rothera Christmas quiz night kicked off, and my small but select team battled it out over such questions as ‘What is the technical name for a six-pointed snowflake?’ and ‘In which year did Rothera have the heaviest winter snowfall?’. Unfortunately, though able to answer the first question (the answer being ‘a stellar dendrite’ – impressive knowledge from one of our meteorologists), we were lacking in knowledge of Rothera’s annual snowfall and finished the night about halfway down the order. Once the quiz was complete, the cheesy Christmas music kicked off and we danced into the night as the snow continued to fall outside.
Christmas Day was bright and clear, and I got up early to look after the morning shift in the tower. I wasn’t feeling completely on the ball, and thought that I might be hallucinating when one of my colleagues appeared alongside me wearing an all in one skin-tight Santa’s-elf suit. He’d already been out for a morning jog on the runway in his costume, following a bet I’d made with him the night before – I’d offered to eat my radio if he made it for a run before breakfast. I tried (and failed) to uphold my side of the deal and then spent the rest of the morning having to repeatedly zip/unzip him out of the suit after he overindulged on coffee.
It was a particularly busy shift, to make up for Christmas Eve’s lack of flying and I was definitely feeling the effects of the night before as I wrapped things up at lunchtime. In the afternoon I made the obligatory calls home to wish my family a happy Christmas, and then headed up to the slopes for a quick ski on the fresh snow, but soon gave in and joined my colleagues in doing some gentle sunbathing on the rocks at the foot of the slope.
At 5pm we showered, shaved and dressed up in our Christmas finery (with shirts, ties and even suits for the men, and evening dresses for the women) and sat down to a full three-course Christmas dinner – the chefs had been saving up fresh veggies and turkey for the occasion, and with plenty of wine as well the meal was the real deal.
I was on duty again in the evening, and headed up to the tower to do the daily radio check with all of the remote field parties. This was more lively than usual, with various inebriated people joining me to wish Merry Christmas and sing raucous carols to our colleagues out on the ice. I also tried to tune in to the annual ‘South Pole vs McMurdo base’ carol sing-off, but unfortunately the reception was not good enough and we missed the opportunity of hearing drunk Americans shouting carols at each other over a dodgy radio link.
This is my first Christmas on base, with a second one to go before I head home again. This seems a long way away, but time here passes very quickly, and with the Antarctic winter taking up a big chunk of the next 12 months, I suspect that I will be celebrating Christmas 2012 before I know it.