Celebrating the Holidays in Space
Have you ever visited a foreign country and been taken back by the fact that they don’t celebrate the same holidays we do? Maybe their Thanksgiving falls on a different day, or their New Year’s celebrations seem to adhere to no earthly calendar.
What about those select few who have left earth behind entirely? When do astronauts celebrate the holidays, and how can they make it feel like the same holiday we’re enjoying a little closer to earth? With so many important systems to keep an eye on, taking time off for even a brief celebration can be difficult. Despite everything that’s at stake during a space-bound mission, astronauts still find some downtime to share in our festivities.
The ISS Melting Pot
The International Space Station is a multinational venture, so several different nationalities are represented onboard at any given time. As you might imagine, it can be difficult to recognize the national holidays of each crew member; they’re up there to do an important job, after all. To help ISS crew members prioritize their holidays, time is set aside to celebrate eight holidays per year, which are decided in advance. It gives the crew an opportunity to share their traditions with their comrades from other countries.
Because the crew is predominantly Russian and American most of the time, the most frequently celebrated holidays – not to mention the cultural dishes being consumed – come from the U.S. and Russia. On June 12th, the crew celebrated Russia Day together, and time was set aside for crew members to video chat with their families back home.
The First Christmas in Space
It was during the Apollo 8 mission that the very first Christmas was celebrated in space. Crew members William Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell were in orbit around the moon on December 24th way back in 1968, at which time they dispatched a radio transmission back to earth to wish their friends, colleagues and loved ones a Merry Christmas.
Just five years after that, the trend continued when the Skylab 4 crew celebrated their own Christmas. As you can imagine, Douglas firs are hard to come by in space. Instead of a traditional Christmas tree, astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue made their own jury-rigged Christmas tree out of empty food cans. It goes to show you that even if you find yourself millions of miles away from earth, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the holidays in style. By using what’s available to you – whether it’s tin cans, cabinet hardware, or a bent spoon or two, you can still rediscover a healthy dose of terrestrial Holiday Spirit.
The human race didn’t always have a permanent human presence in outer space. Now that we have the ISS, our astronauts and cosmonauts find themselves creating traditions of their own. There’s a history now of our space explorers celebrating important holidays. Russian cosmonauts aboard Mir and assorted shuttle missions throughout the years have celebrated the holidays while circling the earth.
More recently, the crew aboard the International Space Station has gotten even more creative in their holiday festivities. For Christmas in 2012, the crew – all sporting Santa hats, of course – gathered together while Commander Chris Hadfield, a native of Canada, played familiar holiday songs on his guitar. Just a few months later, Hadfield put his skills to work once more and broadcasted a masterfully played rendition of “Danny Boy” to help spread St. Patrick’s Day cheer.
As though to earn the “most festive man in space” award, Commander Hadfield also helped the ISS crew celebrate Easter properly by getting up early that Sunday morning and hiding chocolate-filled Easter eggs throughout the station. Life in space isn’t always fun and games, but even when it isn’t, people like Commander Hadfield know how to make the best of less-than-perfect circumstances.
The Human Spirit Persists
That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The human spirit defies the cold stillness of space to bring human imperatives like tradition and resilience to otherwise harsh surroundings.
What’s even more amazing to think about is the future when we’ll have settled onto distant planets and moons. What holidays will we celebrate in unfamiliar worlds? Only time will tell.