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Stations Across Antarctica Celebrate the Halfway Point of the Cold, Dark Winter
Posted June 21, 2023
For those of us reading this in the Northern Hemisphere, June 21st marks the summer solstice or the longest period of daylight of the year. However, south of the equator, it’s the day of the fewest hours of daylight in the year, or the winter solstice. And, for the small cadre of people working and conducting research in Antarctica over the cold and dark Austral winter, the turning point of winter is a unique and special holiday celebrated as Midwinter’s Day.
First celebrated in 1898 by the crew of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, Midwinter’s Day has become a tradition across the continent. There are 40 research stations representing 21 nations that operate through the winter. Each one celebrates the halfway point of the harsh winter in its own way.
Most stations trade good wishes and greeting cards with each other. Many enjoy a special meal, including the three U.S. research facilities – McMurdo Station, Palmer Station, and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
United States Antarctic Program (USAP) participants and personnel who stay on the ice from February through October, referred to as winter overs, genuinely look forward to the Midwinter celebration.
“Even though all of the bases are great distances from each other around the continent, you truly feel closer to each other through the Midwinter greetings that we share,” said Travis Groh, a waste management specialist.
“It is also a time to celebrate being together with your fellow winter overs during this truly unique experience that, at times, can be very difficult and, at other times, very rewarding,” added Travis, who is spending his winter at South Pole Station for the first time, after being a winter over at McMurdo Station four times.
Courtney Moffatt, a supply technician spending her second winter at McMurdo, echoed that sentiment.
“Midwinter is about bringing the whole community together. Nearly every person on station attends the special dinner. There is no other event that brings the people together like the mid-winter celebration,“ she said. “The world continues to turn while we are without sun for months. But the Midwinter celebration is a great reminder of how incredible this experience is and how being here is a true privilege.”
For many, it’s not just a time for celebration, but also a time for reflection. Travis put it best when he noted that Midwinter is a time to reflect on the early Antarctic explorers who endured long winters on the continent with far fewer resources and to appreciate how far we’ve come in terms of scientific discovery as well as diversity in field.
See the stations' Midwinter Greeting Cards: