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Polish Christmas

in the Polar Regions


Polish Polar Stations


The Polish Polar Station Hornsund, situated in Hornsund Fiord, West Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago, has operated since its founding in 1957. Operated by the Polish Academy of Sciences, Intitute of Geophysics, this medium sized station can accommodate up to 30 people during the summer season, and 12 during the winter. The Polish Antarctic Station Henryk Arctowski, situated in Admiralty Bay, King George Island, South Shetlands, has operated continuously since its founding in 1977. Operated by the Polish Academy of Sciences, Department of Antarctic Biology, this medium sized station can accommodate up to 70 people during the summer season, and 20 during the winter.

© P.Celinski
Two small groups of people, residing at Polish Polar Stations, far away from their homes, observe the most important catholic holiday in their solitude. The only companions they have are the animals, who during Bethlehem Night speak in human's voice (Polish traditional belief).
© Jonathan Chester
At both polar stations the Christmas Eve feast starts at 5:00 pm (local time). Everything seems similar to regular Christmas observance. Their is Christmas tree (artificial), Christmas Eve 'oplatek', there are exchange of wishes, mandatory 12 dishes, gifts, carols, pleasant atmosphere. The only difference is the scenery outside. At Spitsbergen there is a mid-winter and ever-deep polar night during whole day. At Antarctica is in a middle of summer and the whole day is sunny.

© Zbigniew Zwolinski
At midnight 24th on 25th of December the improvised 'Pasterka' takes place. The small chapels in snow decor, attached to ice-rocks disguise as a temple. The rule of the priest is assigned to one of the scientists there. There is a reading of the Bible, common prayer and a silence while thinking about the Lord's birth.
This version of Christmas seems to differ. The loneliness can be sensed, in spite of the presence of dozen of friends from the station. The absence of the real home, the closest people and a real joy, which accompanies those holidays. Regardless of the distance of thousands kilometers, the thoughts are directed at the homeland and the (unpresent) closest people to them. The thoughts like: what are they doing now, do they still remember me, are there any presents for me?
Going outside the station does not calm the running thoughts. At Spitsbergen the deep darkness dissalow in getting away from the station. The danger of meeting a polar bear directs return to the station. Antarctica is more joyfull. One could 'reside' in the several thousand big rookery of the penguins and stay with them for sometime, looking at their life and listen to their sounds. When the daydreaming takes place, one can imagine, during penguin cries, the voices from home. That raises the spirit.
Though the long distance, all station residents can spend some time with their beloved ones. Both stations have radio and satellite communication allowing everybody a few minute conversation with their closest at home. The fast exchange of sentences, everybody wants to say as much as possible, each wants to talk with that far away beloved one. Exchange of wishes, short conversation about the dinner menu, weather: we have plenty of snow, and you have again a warm and dark winter. Have to finish, the next polar station colleague is waiting and the next one... Everybody feels for at least short time the warmth of his/her home emitted from ..... the speaker. Afterwards they gather together and share their impressions from the past conversations with their closest at home. In each such conversation there is the same feeling, as all over the world:
The tradition of all polar stations is to radio-link between different stations and exchanging holiday wishes between each other in many different languages:
Afrikander - Een Plesierige Kerfees
Basque - Zorionstsu Eguberri. Zoriontsu Urte Berri On
Chinese - (Mandarin) Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
(Catonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun
Dutch - Vrolijk Kerstfeest
English - Merry Christmas
Esperanto - Gajan Kristnaskon
French - Joyeux Noel
German - Froeliche Weihnachten
Hebrew - Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Italian - Buone Feste Natalizie
Japanese - Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Korean - Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Norwegian - God Jul
Polish - Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia
Portuguese - Boas Festas (from Brazilian station)
Russian - Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva
Scottish - Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur
Spanish - Feliz Navidad (also from Argentinian and Chilean stations)
Welsh - Nadolig Llawen
However, there were people, who spend Christmas by themself. Among them Marek Kaminski, who traveled alone and unsupported across Antarctica in 1995/96 and 1996/97 years.
Regretfully the time passes. The Christmas holidays are finished and the time comes to go back to everyday duties, observations, research. Till the next Christmas, but this time together with the beloved ones.
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Last Updated: September 24, 2001