8: Christmas Near the South Pole

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Transantarctic Mountains
© P. Makovicky
Trimming the Tree

Well, one thing was never in doubt—we were going to have a white Christmas. The day before X-mas, the weather kept us from landing on our dinosaur site. Instead, five of us went to explore a locality at a lower altitude in the Gordon Valley, where Bill had excavated fossils before. While Chris, Roger, Adam, Josh, and I had a fruitful day discovering Middle Triassic amphibian and synapsid remains, the others back at camp crafted an X-mas tree out of wood, wire, and green cloth.

Before dinner, our team had a little Christmas toast, and Phil and Eva passed out gifts they had brought for us. In Denmark, where Eva and I both grew up, we usually exchange gifts on X-mas Eve rather than the next morning. There was a palpable sense of excitement among the camp staff about X-mas, and especially about having two days off (they usually work six days a week).

On Christmas Eve, several camp staff brought out instruments and started to entertain during dinner. An invitation for others to join in culminated in our own fearless leader, Bill Hammer, leading the entire galley in a rocking rendition of Van Morrison's “Gloria.” We'd love to post the video but cannot afford the royalties. Bill used to play in a band back in his high school days, but there was no rust evident in this performance.

After some more music, a call-to-arms for a game of kickball was issued. By this time it was 11 p.m., but with constant daylight, nobody paid attention to the late hour. 'Our' team (i.e. the team that Roger, Nate, Josh, and Peter were on) won by a score of 8-4. After the game, the music and merriment continued well into the wee hours.

Christmas Day had a slow start for many, given the party from the day before. I got up fairly early, intent on building a snowman for my daughter—she loves to sing 'Frosty the Snowman,' but she’s currently visiting my wife's relatives in India, so she has no access to real snowmen. I figured this was the one special thing I could do for her from here.

The snow here is too hard to build a snowman like we do at home. Instead, I had to carve several blocks of snow, and then shape them with a saw. I took several pictures of my five-foot snowman, and then emailed them to my wife. He was a little unorthodox—with ice axes for arms and a bamboo stick instead of a carrot for a nose—but apparently my daughter appreciated him a lot nonetheless.

The three camp cooks had combined forces to put together a fantastic spread for X-mas dinner. There were several appetizers to choose from (crab dumplings, chicken satay, veggie dumplings) and both ham and turkey for the main course, with all the fixings. About a dozen pies of various flavors topped off this extravagant meal.

Dinner was followed by a white elephant gift exchange. The gifts were quite varied, ranging from a red balloon, to books, a bottle of tequila, and a back-rub. The better gifts got stolen more than once, with poor Peter Braddock being stripped of a gift several times. He started with a pack of chocolates and liquor and ended up with the red balloon.

With dinner over, tables and chairs were moved aside to clear a dance floor, and the dancing went on well into the night. It was hard for me to be away from my family for this holiday, but I enjoyed the fun and camaraderie we had here.

More soon,
Pete

© P. Makovicky
The CTAM Snowman