Did you know that December 1st is Antarctica Day? And while it's almost the peak of summer at the southern pole, it's a day of celebration both on the international continent and abroad. So, here's a closer look at what makes Antarctica Day special, and how you can join in the celebrations.
Alongside Midwinter Day, Antarctica Day is one of the Antarctic's two main holidays. Midwinter Day, celebrated at the peak of winter on June 21st or thereabouts, is credited to RF Scott and the crew of the Discovery, who celebrated their overwintering in Antarctica with a festival similar to Christmas, decorating their cabin, eating a hearty meal and exchanging presents. It was embraced by other expeditions during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and is still celebrated today, with overwintering crews sending messages to each other and receiving greetings from their heads of state, such as the President of the USA or the UK Prime Minister.
What is Antarctica Day?
Antarctica. Source: Canva
By stark contrast, Antarctica Day is mainly celebrated outside of Antarctica – its principle aim is to highlight the spirit of international cooperation that governs Antarctica and to raise awareness about Antarctica, encouraging schools in particular to include the Antarctic on their curricula. Established by the Foundation for the Good Governance of International Spaces in 2009, fifty years after the adoption of the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica Day is celebrated every year on 1st December to mark the day on which the Antarctic Treaty was first signed in 1959.
Governing all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees, the Antarctic Treaty came to fruition as a result of territorial interests and Cold War conflicts following the Second World War. With both the USA and the USSR eager to stake a claim in the Antarctic, as well as some preemptive flag-hoisting from both Argentina and Chile, scientific bases from 12 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Chile, Argentina, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and Japan) were established during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958, which then became the first signatories to the Antarctic Treaty a year later. Designed to make this unique land on Earth with no native first people a scientific preserve and banning all military activity, the Antarctic Treaty now hass 55 nations signed up to it, and aims to promote cooperation between its members through the exchange of scientific information about Antarctica, thus making the seventh continent what it is today – a place of peace, discovery, and wonder.
How you can celebrate Antarctica Day
If you're wondering how you can mark this auspicious occasion, here's our quick guide to getting involved.
Many polar institutes and Antarctic organizations have a schedule of talks and films planned, many of them now online and virtual, so take a look at the US Antarctic Program, the British Antarctic Survey websites or that of your home country's polar institute and find out what events you might be able to take part in. Or if you prefer, you can always arrange your own program.
What to Read
A copy of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette". Best seller and now movie starring Cate Blanchett. Source: Conversations about her
Take a walk on the icy side with Alfred Lansing's recounting of Shackleton's 1914 expedition Endurance or compare it with Shackleton's own account of events in South. There's also Beryl Bainbridge's The Birthday Boys, a retelling of Scott's fateful 1912 expedition and Mawson's Will by Lennard Bickel, an epic tale of survival on the Antarctic ice. Or, if you're in the mood for a more upbeat take on how Antarctica can be a continent in which to conquer one's mental inhibitions as much as the physical challenges it poses, why not try Maria Semple's comic Where'd You Go, Bernadette – now also a film starring Cate Blanchett.
What to Watch
Penguins of Antarctica. Source: Unsplash
As well as Richard Linklater's 2019 film, there are also a few historical cinematic delights to enjoy, from Frank Hurley's 1919 original footage South: Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic to Herbert Ponting's official record of Scott's legendary expedition The Great White Silence. Or add a little drama to the action with Charles Frend's 1948 movie Scott of the Antarctic, starring John Mills as the legendary British explorer. Other great picks include Luc Jacquet's nature documentary The March of the Penguins or for some chill thrills, try Christian Nyby's Cold War horror Thing from Another World set on a scientific base in Antarctica (or John Carpenter's 1982 remake The Thing).
Fly the Antarctic flag
Members of the national Antarctic programs of Ecuador and Colombia posing with the flag of Antarctica in front of Maldonado Base, Antarctica. Source: Wikipedia
In celebration of Antarctica Day, you can also fly the flag for Antarctica, and there are several to choose between – from the all-white flag used by the British, Australian and New Zealand research expedition on their ship the Discovery in 1929 to proposals by vexillologists Whitney Smith (a white emblem with the letter 'A' on an orange background) and Graham Bartram (with the Antarctic land mass in white against a blue background symbolizing peace) or the True South flag representing the extremes of night and day and an iceberg in reflection, which becomes a compass arrow pointing south.
Combat climate change
And as one of the Earth's most vulnerable places to climate change, why not make a difference this Antarctica Day? You can donate to a charity, such as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, which oversees biodiversity and preserves habitats at the South Pole or the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund, which funds research into the Antarctic ecosystem that is uniquely dependent on one tiny species, Antarctic krill. Or why not make a pledge this Antarctica Day to make a change for climate change? Write to your political representative and make sure your voice about climate change is heard, or you could try cycling or walking instead of driving, eating less meat or dairy or turning down your thermostat.
Perhaps most importantly though, this Antarctica Day, why not share what you're doing to take part? Whether it's posting memories of a previous trip to the Antarctic Circle or dreams of your some-day Antarctic adventure, tagging social media messages with the Graham Bartram Antarctica flag emoji, or sharing your climate change pledges, this Antarctica Day is all about raising awareness, so that the Antarctic can continue to be a place of discovery, peace and wonder.