In one of the most remote places in the world, it can be hard to imagine spending the holidays without loved ones around. But when you're surrounded by some of the most hard working and giving people who also find themselves isolated at the holidays, you find yourself surrounded with a new family.
This was my first white Christmas (ever!) and I got to start off the weekend with a sled ride down a mountain beside the station. I can't remember the last time I rode a sled and it was such a great way to bond with fellow Polies as we laughed and slid down the hill with child-like excitement.
The next day was Christmas Eve and we started off the day with a game of disc golf after some breakfast. Station manager Bill Coughton joined us for a few holes and we had a lot of laughs trying to sink our discs in the baskets of some of the more challenging holes like the old fuel arches or the old satellite dome from the first South Pole Station. We also checked out the rock wall on the way back to the station and considered doing some bouldering.
Playing disc golf with a sun dog in the background.
One of the baskets for disc golf resides under the old fuel arches at the edge of the station.
The rock wall used for bouldering at the South Pole Station.
We returned to the station after visiting "Skua" which is essentially a thrift store for the South Pole. People leave belongings behind that get placed inside the Skua Shack; there's everything from extra mittens and hats, to costumes and hacky sacks! I needed to find an outfit for Christmas dinner, so we searched around until I found a nice green sweater to wear.
Handmade sign outside of the Skua Shack that is the South Pole version of a thrift store.
The spirit of Christmas was everywhere in the station. There were decorations in the galley, Secret Santa gift exchanges, and ice sculptures outside by the Ceremonial Pole. Rishabh Khandelwal, a graduate student working on the ARA deployment team asked why socks were hanging from the galley. "Those are stockings," I replied. I was shocked to learn that he'd never heard of any Christmas traditions. That's when Uzair Abdul Latif and Liz Friedman piped in and said that they had never celebrated either but were excited to learn about traditions and be a part of the festivities.
Our first Christmas activity was baking cookies and decorating ginger bread houses. We had a lot of laughs trying to keep the walls of the house up as the frosting loosened up on the edges. Elim Cheung joined and we made an ARA themed ginger bread house that we entered into the competition. We didn't come close to winning, but we all shared a great holiday tradition and our fellow ARA team members were very supportive.
ARA themed ginger bread house.
Carpenter Ryan Kunz and I decided we needed to introduce the trio to a few more holiday traditions before the end of the weekend. We went to the craft room and grabbed some supplies to sew personalized stockings for each of them. Thomas Meures, another member of the ARA team, helped us with some of the finishing touches.
We all got dressed up for dinner and stepped into the magically decorated galley to find our seats. The food was amazing! We had duck and lobster tail with some delicious sides and a yule log for dessert. I can't imagine how long it must have taken to cook all that food for 100 people, but we were all so thankful for such a memorable Christmas dinner.
Lobster tail and duck for Christmas dinner.
After dinner, Ryan and I brought Liz, Uzair, and Rishabh over to the Christmas tree and we set out their stockings and some milk and cookies for Santa. As beautiful as it is to watch a young child get excited about Santa visiting their home, I can say that seeing the same pure joy coming from an adult when hearing about Christmas stockings for the first time was just as amazing.
We all migrated to the gym which had been converted into a stage for an open mic night of holiday stories and songs. It was a wonderful night of sharing traditions that others' had experienced growing up.
The venue for the open-mic night in the gym on Christmas at the South Pole Station.
The next morning was Christmas Day and I awoke with excitement to compete in the Race Around the World. Every year on Christmas Day at the South Pole, Polies run a 5k around the station that hits all longitudes of the world. Some of the other amazing traditions for this race include absurd costumes and ridiculous methods of transportation. A snowmobile leads that race to set the pace for the first runner and there is also a snowmobile that picks up stragglers at the end of the run. This was the most difficult race I've ever run. Not only is it cold (-30 F), but the lack of oxygen at altitude made it extremely difficult to breathe. On top of that, some of the ice is very slippery in some places and very soft in others, so it feels like you're running through thick sand. Needless to say, I did not break any of my 5k records, but I did finish the race! I also ran with my California state flag that has been signed by my students, co-workers, friends, family, and community members. If you signed the flag, you've joined me on an epic race around the world!
Other costumes included an Easter bunny suit, Santa costume, and Batman. There was an elaborate LC-130 sled that was pulled by Johannes Werthebach and Sabrina Shemet dressed as a pilot in the plane. They made it to the finish line and dropped bags of mail from the plane as they came across. The last entry in the race was a float that was towed by a PistenBully that contained couches, a foosball table, TV, and about 10 people celebrating Christmas Day. They towed two skiers off the back and cheered on the runners as they finished the race. It was quite a spectacle.
Catching my breath at the Ceremonial South Pole marker after running every longitude in the world.
During the last kilometer of the race we were greeted by a float with two skiers skidding along the back.
After the race, I joined Ryan Kunz on a trip out to the tourist camp, located about a half mile from the station. Hannah is the tourist camp manager and she invited us to join her and her team of three for some hot Christmas cider. Their camp brings in tourists from the Chilean side of Antarctica and they stay on the same time zone as Chile. So at noon for us (New Zealand time), it was 8:00 P.M. for the tourist camp. How strange it was to sit down at the table with people from a completely different time zone on two different days – they were preparing for their own Christmas Eve.
The tourist camp just past the station that lives on Chilean time instead of New Zealand time.
We came back from the tourist camp to play a game of volleyball and then spent the evening relaxing in the sauna and settled down to watch a movie before bed. As much as I missed being with my family and celebrating our family holiday traditions, this was a Christmas unlike any other and I am so thankful to have had the chance to experience a magical Christmas at the South Pole.