A Texas voice
We were singing "White Christmas" and I made the mistake of listening to the words, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know." It is true that I can get sentimental rather easily, but even I was surprised to be affected by this song.
My choking up a little bit had nothing to do with snow. I'm far more likely to have a white Christmas here than back home in Texas. Nor does it have anything to do with sleigh bells or the writing of Christmas cards.
No, the Christmases I'll be dreaming of during my first season in Antarctica will be the ones I've always known: Helping the kids leave food for Santa's reindeer. Getting up early to turn on the tree lights and yell "Merry Christmas" when the young ones enter the room. Opening gifts and trading thanks with relatives. Cuddling with my wife on the sofa and contentedly watching everyone enjoy Christmas.
Missing out on the family Christmas does not come as a surprise, of course. It was discussed several times as Leah and I carefully walked through the many changes necessary for me to take a journalist job at the world's southernmost newspaper. She would have to assume responsibility for things I had been doing at home. My daughter and I could no longer exchange text messages about ball games. I wouldn't be able to run up and help my father if he needed me. My wife, my daughter and I would all have birthdays while I'm on the Ice. And ... and we would be separated for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.
Eventually, my whole family played a role in the decision. My wife pretty much said I would be crazy to not take advantage of such a great opportunity. My daughter pointed out that we would still have e-mail and instant messages. My father said I was crazy and expressed his hope that I would not pass the physical.
So, my first Christmas away from my family ... ever ... will be spent with several hundred strangers. No, that's not true. While there is only one whom I have known for more than a few weeks, I cannot call them strangers.
You get to know people rather rapidly in Antarctica. It starts with orientation and accelerates once you're on the Ice. "My name is Steve. What's yours? Where are you from? What do you do? How long have you been coming down?" And then there are all the diversions into family, other jobs, travels, hobbies, etc. Sure, that can happen stateside, too, but you just don't see it occur as often or as thoroughly.
There are non-family links to Christmases past, too. Take the folks singing in the choir. I did not know most of them prior to Sunday and may still be weak on their names, but we've already forged a bit of a bond. By the time we finish our performances, at the rate relationships develop here, we could know each other rather well.
Of course, there is also the chapel. Christmas, for all its wonderful effects on familial relations and department store sales, is also a religious holiday. As such, those of us spending the season here can probably find links between church observances back home and the chapel services here.
You see, even a shy new guy can't feel all that alone during his first Christmas more than 11,000 miles from Santa's workshop. It's as if all of these new friends are family, right?
Well, no, not for me, though I've heard some Antarctic veterans say that. All these new friends will not replace my family. However, I think one would be hard-pressed to find a better place to have to be alone with scads of new friends at Christmas.
Steve Martaindale is a self-syndicated columnist spending the Antarctic summer working on the ice continent. Write him at penmanmailsteve@ yahoo.com.