Antarctica is known for being one of the harshest places on earth. Never is this more true than during the winter months when nearly all personnel have left the continent for warmer climes. During this period, when Antarctica is at its coldest and darkest, the few dozen brave souls who are still on the continent celebrate Midwinter.
Also known as Midwinter Day or Midwinter Festival, Midwinter is the oldest and most important holiday in Antarctica. It falls on the southern winter solstice each year (either June 20th or June 21st.) It marks the day Antarctic stations have reached the halfway point between the previous sunset and the upcoming sunrise. As such, it's a perfect day for the overwintering crew in Antarctica to pull out all the stops and light up the darkness with the biggest celebration of the year.
When did Midwinter start?
The first Antarctic Midwinter celebration dates back to 1902. Although they weren't the first people to winter in Antarctica, the crew of the Discovery Expedition was the first to have a Midwinter Festival. Sir Rober Falcon Scott and his men imitated Christmas by eating Christmas food, opening Christmas presents, and decorating with a Christmas theme. Scott described the celebration in his journal.
The mess deck was gaily decorated with designs in coloured papers and festooned with chains and ropes of the same material, the tables were loaded with plum puddings, mince pies, and cakes, mostly of home manufacture, but none the less "Christmassy" in appearance.
Scott and his crew member Shackleton repeated the celebration on their later expeditions, and it soon caught on among most overwintering crews. With the addition of year-round research stations, more and more people began celebrating it across the continent.
How do people celebrate Midwinter?
Midwinter is no longer an imitation of Christmas, but it is celebrated in many of the same ways as when it first started. People often exchange gifts, decorate the station, and put on performances. Since the advent of the internet, stations have started sharing Midwinter greetings with one another. (These are usually group photos of the station personnel.) Some stations have unique traditions, such as the BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast at British Antarctic Survey stations. Like all of the best holidays, though, food is an important part of Midwinter.
What do people eat on Midwinter?
Midwinter dinner usually the focal point of the celebration as it is the biggest and fanciest meal overwintering personnel will get. Station chefs forgo their usual fare and instead use high-quality ingredients, often ones that had been saved specifically for this occasion.
How fancy are these dinners? Here are three of the nine courses served for Midwinter dinner at the South Pole this year.
-Seared duck with blueberry sauce and cardamon carrot mash
-Red wine braised short rib with blistered tomatoes and creamy polenta
-Goat cheese cheesecake with crispy pepper tuile and sundried almond vinegarette
Who celebrates Midwinter?
Nearly every person living in Antarctica or near Antarctica celebrates Midwinter, regardless of their national affiliation. It's a holiday that unites Antarcticans across thousands of miles and nearly 120 years of history. Although Midwinter is still primarily a holiday for people wintering in Antarctica, it's a great excuse for people across the world to celebrate the continent and their connection to it.