21 June, 2023 In the news

Today (21 June) marks the longest night in Antarctica and around 40 people will be celebrating Midwinter in British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) three winter stations: Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic peninsula, and King Edward Point and Bird Island on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Midwinter falls when the sun is at its furthest point and some of the frozen continent will be experiencing 24 hours of darkness on its shortest day. The event has its roots from the historical age of exploration and while working through the Antarctic winter, or ‘overwintering’, is now much more comfortable, many of the traditions continue.

Homemade gifts are an important component of Midwinter celebrations and staff working in research stations will spend many hours using their crafting abilities to make unique and special presents, as there are no shops in Antarctica!

A sunset over a body of water
Midwinter at Rothera Research Station. © Blair Fyffe

The last delivery of fresh produce to the stations will have been many weeks ago, however talented chefs work hard to create a multi-course Midwinter feast, rivalling any fine dining experience back in the UK.

Staff working in British Antarctic Survey’s wintering stations also receive a letter of thanks from the British Prime Minister, the British Antarctic Territory’s (BAT) Commissioner and the Commissioner of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast

The teams gather together at the end of the special day to listen to the BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast, a unique radio programme featuring messages from friends, family and supporters back in the UK. This year’s edition is presented by BBC Radio 6 Music’s Cerys Matthews and features interviews with Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of BAS and Nadia Frontier, a marine biologist from BAS and former winterer.

The BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast will be transmitted at 21.30 GMT on 21 June on shortwave frequencies: 12005 kHz, 13810 kHz and 7255 kHz.

You can also listen to the programme on the BBC World Service at 02.32 BST on UK DAB and on BBC Sounds.

Celebrating Midwinter on station

At the UK’s largest Antarctic research station, Rothera, the tradition of a Winter Olympics will continue, with the 26-strong team battling it out through cross country skiing, skidoo time trials and box crate stacking. One of the buildings at Rothera will be turned into a cosy cinema, where they will watch horror films including favourite The Thing and South of Sanity (the first full-length fictional film shot in Antarctica). Other planned events include playing the team game Assassin.

Wintering team at Rothera Research Station
Wintering team at Rothera Research Station © Blair Fyffe

A large snow fall at King Edward Point Research Station has got everyone in the festive spirit and the eight-person team will join colleagues for a special feast with the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) and those working on the fishery patrol vessel, the MV Pharos SG. The station leader will also deliver breakfast in bed to colleagues and the team will compete in a series of games, including taskmaster and a murder mystery night.

Winterers at King Edward Point wishing everyone a Happy Midwinter
Winterers at King Edward Point wishing everyone a Happy Midwinter

Over at Bird Island Research Station, also on South Georgia, the small team of four have added festive decorations to the lounge and will start the day in style with a special breakfast of pancakes, followed by exchanging hand-crafted midwinter gifts. They are planning a sumptuous evening meal before the traditional screening of the Thing. Midwinter Olympic games are also on the cards, though the events will have to be less snow focussed than at Rothera!

Joe Owen, King Edward Point Winter Station Leader says: “Midwinter is such a great time to be South. It gives us time to reflect on the people we hold dear, the people we will return to when we make it home along with our friends on station. It lets us look back on the fun we have already had this season and forward to the rest of our season ambitions.”