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Christmas in Antarctica
Journal by Margaret Amsler
Posted on 1/7/2002 at 4:00 p.m.

 Katrin Iken (right), Maggie Amsler (middle), and Chuck Amsler (left) on the deck of the RV <I>Laurence M. Gould </I> as she prepares to sail from Punta Arenas, Chile to Antarctica. Photo by Bill Baker.
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The holiday season at Palmer officially started on December 11 with an after dinner sugar cookie bake-o-rama. The following evening Christmas music was heard throughout the 3 aisles of Pal-Mat, the station store.

On the 13th, an elf delivered each member of science group a small red and green felt stocking and a jingle-belled knit bell ornament with which to decorate the lab. Our group was one-step ahead of stocking making and decorating activity on the 14th. Stockings were then hung about the dining area awaiting an infusion of coal or goodies.

Chris Petrie and Maggie Amsler (middle right and left, respectively) share Christmas cheer with fellow station members.
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Jennifer, the assistant cook, initiated an ornament challenge. From the ceiling in the dining room she hung an ornament that reflected her job at Palmer: a red ribboned-serving spoon arched gracefully in half after accidentally going down the sink disposal! She challenged other groups or individuals to contribute an ornament of a design representative of work, hobby, home, etc.

Our group added three project oriented creations: a freeze dried sea star hung on UAB green and gold yarn, a mobile of dried brown algae adorned with decorated sea shells and a stack of petrie dishes somewhat resembling a tree. Inside the transparent plastic dishes were little Jell-o disks of red and green made from powdered algae and used in our feeding experiments.

 Christmas Dinner in the holiday-decorated dining room at Palmer Station. Notice the homemade ornaments hanging from the rafters. Photo by Margaret Amsler.
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Many other folks caught Jennifer’s contagious spirit and crafted clever ornaments. For instance, Jeff, who maintains the boats so key to field work here, fashioned a tiny little black rubber zodiac that had a nut and bolt engine. Cara and Barb, the lab managers, created an exotic new fish species from assorted types of lab plastic ware. All were hung from the ceiling with care!

A merry band of folks decorated the official artificial Palmer Station Christmas tree on a snowy evening. Bing Crosby tunes crooned in the background while a fire crackled in the fireplace. Fresh popped corn garlands were strung, lights hung, a mix of ornaments selected. Knitters Anonymous had needled mini wool hats, stockings, wreath and bell ornaments. Orion, the science technician, deftly folded elaborate origami spheres. Small lights twinkled magic into the limbs of our humble tree. T’was a wonderful sight!

Station Cook Wendy's Yule Log with Maggie's meringue
mushrooms — yummmmy! Photo by Margaret Amsler.
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The cooks hosted yet another cookie and Christmas goodies baking party on the 18th. On the 21st, a most elaborate gingerbread house or really station was constructed. Every building, as well as the small storage sheds and tents were included in this sweet masterpiece. The keen attention to detail reflected the many builders’ pride in our little town. Windows, doors, decks, the flagpole, and snow of course, were included. There was even a confectionary version of a pair of birds that have taken up residence on top of one of the sheds. Like most gingerbread creations, this one looked too good to eat but eventually was nibbled down! To ensure we had enough sweets for our holiday dinner, another pie baking seminar was held several nights later. This time, there were even more pies made than the 13 baked for Thanksgiving!!

I did not bake any sweets this holiday but I did contribute some goodies to our Christmas Dinner, which was held on the 24th. The cooks were skeptical but did let me make a family favorite stuffing endearingly referred to as sawdust. It is simply crushed saltines with an egg and milk added for moisture. I was relieved to see other people enjoying it — especially the carpenters!

As with our Thanksgiving feast, Wendy and Jennifer indulged us serving succulent turkey, flavorful ham, tender beef, apple walnut stuffing, sausage stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, and oven warm savory muffins — to name a few items on the buffet. The dessert table was again brimming with delights. I did add a minor contribution to it- mushrooms! Meringue mushrooms that is for the rich chocolate Yule log. Jim, Chuck, and Bill — in absentia — contributed several bottles of liquid merriment for the dinner. The most delicious and warming serving at this banquet though was sharing time and cheer with the Palmer family.

Christmas morning brought much fun and joy for all. The dining room was full a stuffed stockings. Even folks who did not make or hang a stocking discovered that Santa’s helpers had left them one. There were no lumps of coal, but to each stocking was pinned a little snowman poem and a bag of marshmallows (“snowman poop!”). The doctor elf had stuffed each stocking with a prescription of “happy pills” (M&M’s). A wide assortment of goodies like candy, handmade soaps, little toys, made us all giggle with glee. I had several unique items including a silver and glacier blue beaded necklace and a keychain/kaleidoscope that provides an eyeful of vivid color and ever changing images. Somebody thought I had been especially good this past year!

In the evening, the chairs and tables in the dining room were stacked along the walls and our humble tree became the focal point of the room. Beneath the tree were presents of all shapes and sizes. There was definitely an air of suppressed childlike wonder and impatience as we all awaited the start of the gift exchange.

All who attended had made, bought, brought a gift, wrapped it and secretly put it beneath the tree. Everyone pulled a numbered slip of paper out of a stocking. The person who drew "#1" then pulled another numbered slip of paper out of another stocking. The person holding that number was the first to select a present. That person then drew a number to determine who is next. The next person had the option of selecting another gift from beneath the tree or "exchanging" one that had already been opened. And so it went until all gifts were opened.

Some presents were exchanged several times and some of those exchanges were quite lively. I was surprised to see that my little offering of dried, pressed algae mounted behind sheets of plexiglass was among the frequently "stolen" gifts. I admit stealing a gift myself: an ice-bent aluminum propeller. Each blade had an Antarctic image laser cutout. It was soooo cool — I did not want to give it up when it was then stolen from me! All in good fun, and with good people. Yes, we had a very Merry little Christmas at Palmer Station.

Maggie's Journal: To Everything Its Place
Maggie's Journal: Wrapping Up at Palmer Station
Maggie's Journal: Happy Belated New Year
Jim's Journal: Antarctic Science Snowballs
Maggie's Journal: Christmas in Antarctica
Chuck's Journal: Home Alone
Student Journal: A Different Christmas

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