Merry Christmas from the bottom of the world! As I write this it is still Christmas across the US, but I’m enjoying some post-Christmas time off after a full day of celebrations yesterday. The South Pole Station knows how to throw a pretty good party! I was sorry to miss celebrating at home this year, but I had a really good time here too.
The first event of the day was the Race Around the World, a South Pole Christmas morning tradition. The race starts and ends at the geographic South Pole and follows a figure eight loop out to DSL and IceCube and back, covering a total of about two miles. Any mode of transportation is allowed, although most people choose to run or walk. Running in costume is highly encouraged, and we had some good ones this year: crazy hats and neon, a Hercules airplane, and even a team of firefighters in full fire protection gear, with face masks and oxygen tanks (everyone gave them a resounding cheer when they walked across the finish line). Four people from our group ran and one of the BICEP3 graduate students (Jimmy) even came in second! Two others joined the race by riding on a couch that had been rigged up behind a snowmobile. I watched the start of the race from the galley and then went outside to cheer everyone as they crossed the finish line.
The race awards ceremony was held after Christmas brunch, which was very tasty (cherry and almond crepes, eggs Benedict, and chocolate-covered strawberries were among the offerings). The first-prize winners for the men and women’s divisions hit the jackpot: one five-minute shower each. The runners up each got a certificate entitling the bearer to spend several hours shadowing a member of a specific department on station. Jimmy chose the department that operates the heavy machinery, so he is hoping to get to drive exciting machines like bulldozers and loaders. Other people may get to learn how to fuel airplanes and guide a plane in for landing, launch weather balloons, or hang out with the galley staff and do some cooking. The overall first-place winner also gets a free flight to McMurdo to compete in this year’s marathon race there. Apparently the marathon is often won by a South Pole contestant, as we have the advantage here of being able to train at altitude.
After brunch, a dozen of us gathered in the station communications center for some Christmas caroling over the high-frequency radio. We were joined by the McMurdo holiday choir, the Italian base, and people at half a dozen field camps all over Antarctica. Each group led at least one song and the caroling continued for about 45 minutes. I thought it was the most magical part of the day – that even in such remote locations, people could still come together and share the Christmas spirit.
In the afternoon many people gathered to watch classic Christmas movies, but I elected to read and take a nap instead. After that, I had to hurry to wake up and get dressed for dinner! Most of my research group was in the first seating, so we started on appetizers at 4:30. The setup was very similar to Thanksgiving, and the food was equally good (or possibly even better). After a spread of delicious appetizers that included eggnog, shrimp cocktail, scallops, duck comfit, and New Zealand brie, we all sat down to a main course of beef Wellington and Maine lobster. The meal was accompanied by copious amounts of wine and everyone partook in a range of cakes, homemade truffles, and peppermint bark for dessert.
After dinner, we all retired to the lounge and talked late into the evening. One of the Harvard grad students who wasn’t able to come down this year, Jake, packed a bottle of nice scotch into one of the BICEP3 shipping crates as a Christmas surprise, so we all toasted him and enjoyed that together. Eventually interest built in watching a movie, so a group of us searched through the collection for Die Hard. We couldn’t find the first one, so we ended up watching the third one instead. It wasn’t quite as good as the original, but it was an entertaining end to the day nevertheless.
It was past midnight when we all went to bed, so I was very happy that we chose not to have a group meeting this morning. We have basically finished all of the prep work on Keck that we need to finish to be ready for the focal planes, so the Keck team mostly took another full day off today too. Tomorrow morning we’ll head out to the telescope and wrap up everything else, and hope that we get a plane! If we do, I will be flying back to McMurdo and I will have ended my South Pole trip as I started it: with a holiday celebration. Despite a few bouts of frustration at the hardware delays, I am really glad that I had a chance to come here and meet so many amazing people. The South Pole is a unique and special place and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to live here for a while.