Cinderella and feasts marked Antarctic shortest day

SYDNEY (Reuters) - There’s nothing like a good party to beat the winter blues, especially in Antarctica where the cold is bitter and the sky is a very dark blue.

Ice blocks are seen floating in the Weddell Sea near the Argentine Base Marambio in the Antarctic Peninsula March 8, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

The shortest day of the year on June 21 is the cue for big celebrations as residents of research stations in Antarctica look forward to the days getting longer, even if by only a fraction at first. “Midwinter is the biggest day in the Antarctic calendar, and we received lots and lots and lots of greetings from all over the continent -- these days mostly by e-mail,” said Pete Pedersen, station leader at Davis base, the most southerly of Australia’s four permanent Antarctic research facilities.

“There is a great sense of camaraderie amongst all the nations down here,” he told Reuters by email after the station’s three-day holiday for the midwinter weekend.

For the 19 staff wintering at Davis, where the station's webcam (here) showed the temperature at -20 Celsius (-4F) early on Wednesday and the station lights the only thing visible through a dark blue haze, Saturday's party began with a chilly swim.

A hole is cut through ice over 1 meter (3 ft) thick, then the staff are roped together and take a brief dip in the water.

“Very cold ... very funny,” said Pedersen. “A doctor is on standby in case anyone is overly affected by the swim, but it has been going on for years, and as long as the ‘victim’ warms up quickly, it is very safe.”

Back inside the base, and a dinner of oysters, crayfish, roasts, salmon, desserts, wine and port set the scene for an evening of theatre featuring a staff performance of Cinderella, a tradition that dates back to the early days of Antarctic exploration, Pedersen said.

After two days of holiday, it was back to work for the staff, whose marine scientists, physicists and meteorologists are backed by plumbers, mechanics, electricians, carpenters and a chef.

“From now on in, the ‘back is broken’ on winter, and the days will slowly start to get longer and longer until they again go for about 24 hours, Pedersen said.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Reporting by Jonathan Standing