23 December, 2021 News stories, SDA

2021 has been a rollercoaster year for British Antarctic Survey, operating research stations in the Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic through the Covid-19 pandemic, while our new polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough was showcased in London before COP26, followed by its maiden voyage to Antarctica this month.

With the final days of 2021 approaching, staff at our five Antarctic research stations and onboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough are preparing for the special festive season, with almost guaranteed snow and cold weather, but with the added twist of 24 hours of daylight.

While each station may celebrate Christmas in its own way, our 250 staff and collaborators in Antarctica will be united in spending it together in this unique polar environment.

Bird Island Research Station

Plans for Christmas are relatively normal for Bird Island this year, with fieldwork continuing as the long-term monitoring data needs to be collected from the fur seals, wandering albatross, penguins and other residents. However, the team will try their best to make the day feel different from the rest by cooking a roast turkey with all the vegetables they can find (mainly frozen and tinned!).

Photo of Bird Island Christmas Tree
Christmas Tree at Bird Island Research Station. Credit Martin Loughran

The station has recently been decorated by the whole team while enjoying some mulled wine. The offices, hallway and living room have been decked out with tinsel, hanging snowflakes, paper chains and window stickers. The quirky Bird Island Christmas tree has the usual reindeer horns, googly eyes and a red nose with an albatross on top! We are counting down the days till Christmas by burning an advent candle at each dinner.

Check out the Bird Island web cam to see a small glimpse of the decorations and enjoy the views of the beach and its fur seals.

Halley VI Research Station

Halley has had some unprecedented bad weather forecast until Christmas Eve (30-50 knots of wind, lots of snowfall and very poor visibility). So, Christmas is coming early to Halley this year and the team celebrated on Tuesday 21 December. For the “real Christmas” on 25 December, they will be working and making the most of the forecasted good weather.

Halley Christmas Cake 2021
Halley Christmas Cake 2021. Credit: Thomas Barningham

Last week was a hive of activity on station, with the Christmas decorations going up and people finishing handmade Secret Santa gifts in the ‘chippy’ shed. The chefs were churning out the mince pies at a high rate and the Christmas movies being played in the field guide’s workshop (Home Alone and Die Hard).

Halley Station Staff Celebrating Christmas
Halley Station staff celebrating Christmas. Credit: Thomas Barningham

On Tuesday 21 December the team celebrated with a Christmas brunch in the morning followed by a late afternoon Christmas Dinner – roast turkey with all the trimmings. Due to the bad weather, it was a day of Christmas films and board games, complete with the typical family arguments over Monopoly…

Halley Chefs Preparing Food
Halley VI Chefs preparing festive food. Credit: Thomas Barningham

King Edward Point Research Station

Festivities started on 20 December, when the whole community at King Edward Point in South Georgia (BAS, GSGSSI and SGHT) put up the Christmas decorations in Grytviken’s old Whalers’ Church. Mulled wine and mince pies, contributed by many of the team, helped to ignite the festive spirit.

Fresh pizza at King Edward Point Research Station in South Georgia
Fresh pizza at King Edward Point Research Station in South Georgia. Credit: Sarah Clark

As has become tradition on Christmas day, the GSGSSI build team will kindly be treating everyone to pizza fresh from their amazing hand-built pizza oven. BAS will return the favour on Boxing Day by inviting everybody round for full Christmas dinner, doing our best to include those that still have to work on those days. The station staff are hoping for some good weather to be able to play some volleyball, but if not, there is always the sauna!

Rothera Research Station

December has been a very busy month at Rothera with the arrival of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, visiting scientists heading out into the field and the process of handing over to the new wintering team. However, the team is planning to make some time to enjoy the festivities! There will be around 150 people on our largest Antarctic station and around 10 people out in ‘the field’ on Christmas Day.

The arrival of RRS Sir David Attenborough last week brought fresh vegetables and fruit or ‘freshies’ onto station last week. Rothera’s chefs have been planning Christmas for a while, with not one, but three special menus; a Christmas Eve tapas, Christmas Day brunch and Christmas Day BBQ. Festive food includes ‘pumpkin and rosemary balls’, ‘BBQ buttermilk fried turkey burger’ and ‘iced and spiced gingerbread biscuit’.

The decorations also went up, with trees and tinsel around New Bransfield House. There are plans a foot for carol singing with Sam (Field Guide) and making gingerbread houses with Klara (Doctor). Another festive favourite is the Fuchs House Cinema, where the sewing loft of Fuchs are turned into a cosy cinema full of sheepskins, hot chocolate and a selection of Christmas films.

Signy Research Station

The team will have a unique Christmas present as they are currently scheduled to arrive at Signy on Christmas Day on the RRS Sir David Attenborough. The weather will dictate the plans for Christmas Day and opening up the station, so the team could be digging snow, landing cargo and powering up the station for heat and light. However, they could also be sitting comfortably on the ship if there’s bad weather!

Whatever happens, chef Mona has made a special Signy Christmas cake for the team, and once they are settled in, will celebrate Christmas a few days later, though probably minus the decorations, tree and tinsel!

RRS Sir David Attenborough

The crew of the RRS Sir David Attenborough have been celebrating the festive season by making mince pies and decorating Christmas cakes. The polar vessel has also been decorated with a fake log fire and chimney.

Mince pie making on the RRS Sir David Attenborough
Mince pie making on the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Credit: Stu McManus

They are looking forward to a proper White Christmas with the penguins and seals!

Meringue snowman and mincemeat sea spiders
Meringue snowman and pastry octopus for a sea themed Christmas Cake. Credit: Jenna Plank