How to celebrate Midwinter at an Antarctic station

Midwinter’s Dream

Where do you start in trying to describe a day that is long etched into the traditions and psyche of Antarctic expeditions?

The Davis station wintering team has a mix of expeditioners – some have “wintered” many times while others have just tasted their very first Midwinter “down south”. This blend made for a memorable occasion with the continuation of traditions from days gone by combined with the excitement of first-timers and our own unique celebration as the Davis 76th ANARE.

It definitely takes a village to prepare for and celebrate Midwinter and all on station contributed to making the day the success it was.

We all drew names out of hats in February for Midwinter gifts and over many weeks people beavered away on their gifts. One of the best things about being in Antarctica is the array of skills on station – where else can you draw on a full complement of trades to help you make a bespoke gift? Add to this some unique skills such as laser cutting, painting, sewing and crocheting and the sky is the limit with what you can make.

The Winter Solstice is probably the biggest day of the year for our hard-working chef Kez, and preparations started many weeks ago with menu planning and stock ordering from the on-station Greenstore. We started extra slushy shifts on Thursdays and Fridays to help Kez create the amazing treats that were in store for us including hand-made chocolates, bagels, and biscuits.

Our doctor delivered an all-station presentation on considerations for the Midwinter swim and co-ordinated the necessary paperwork for swim participants as well as being on hand during the swim itself.

The “pool party” planned the creation of the ice pool for the swim including all the necessary equipment for the day including an “Apple” hut and RMIT van to keep people warm while they dressed for the swim and dried off afterwards, and the availability of the SAR Hägglunds.

The pool was hewn out of the sea-ice on the Sunday afternoon before Midwinter and the team performed daily checks to remove ice accumulation in the lead-up. One of our plumbers made some almost life-like, handmade penguins to adorn the ice-cubes pool side. They made for a great backdrop for photos.

A team of observers and attendants met two days before the swim to make sure we had all the necessary procedures in place to keep everyone safe on the day and all on station attended a briefing to discuss safety including the equipment they’d need to bring on the day. Gloves and shoes are mandatory – skin doesn’t do very well on the cold metal surface of the ladder!

There are too many tasks to capture them all but some others included making and sending invitations, printing menus, and organising a huge range of things such as live music and entertainment, setting up the dinner hall with flags of all Antarctic nations, fine linen and fancy crockery and cutlery, decorations, printing out wishes from all the other Antarctic stations, and preparing speeches and toasts.

All of this preparation culminated in what turned out to be a very special day for all on station.

The day started very early for station chef Kez and she was supported by two slushies who rotated every couple of hours throughout the day.

At 10:00am we joined online in our cinema with Kingston and other stations for the formal Midwinter celebration and award ceremony. In the days leading up to Midwinter, the station community had some fun filming a poem wishing everyone in the AAD a great Midwinter and this was shared with all present as a video clip.

After the formalities we shared a fantastic brunch – the tables were groaning under the weight of so much good food – eggs benedict and bacon on home-made English muffins, salmon, oysters, prawns, a giant cheeseboard, pastries, cakes, biscuits, quiches, bagels and yummy fruit smoothies.

This was followed by the much-anticipated gift giving, a process we savoured by handing out gifts one at a time and sharing in the delight of each recipient. The effort and creativity that went into the gifts was outstanding and a testament to the thoughtfulness and kindness of our team.

No-one said much but there was an undercurrent of nervous anticipation about the impending dip in the −2°C waters of the Southern Ocean. Suddenly, the allotted time of 2:00pm was upon us and the group descended on the pre-prepared swim site. One at a time, the swimmers took their turns at being roped up to our anchor-man Bill and climbing down the trusty ladder to experience what can only be described as bracing and a moment that won’t be forgotten. Thankfully, we had our photographers on hand to capture everyone’s memorable moments and some priceless facial expressions.

At 5:30pm, showered and thawed, we gathered at Nina’s, the station bar, to share some drinks and nibbles. The well-dressed group took part in a station photograph before moving downstairs to the mess-hall adorned with the flags of Antarctic nations to start the evening’s formalities.

We ate, drank, shared speeches, toasts and photo reels for a few wonderful hours before eventually moving upstairs to enjoy some live entertainment from the Red-Hot Chilli Penguins where people sang and danced the night away.

At the start of the night we heard about the traditions of the early expeditioners and I think we can confidently say that this day was as memorable as the Midwinter celebrations of those first explorers. Thank you to the entire 76th ANARE for a fantastic celebration of Midwinter 2023.

Karen Pye