Christmas Dinner Fort Conger, Artic Circle 1881

Christmas at the North Pole




By 1881 Adolphus Greeley had already spent much of his life in the army, he knew the Civil War first-hand. While others might have opted for a quiet desk job in Washington, Greeley instead volunteered for an incredibly dangerous and heroic assignment.  With  25 men and command of the ship Proteus they were off to the top of the world. 
Commissioned by the US government, his main job was to set up a meteorological observation station as part of an international effort to research the polar regions. 
These unspeakably brave men spent 3 very difficult years in this service, the details of which we will not go into here but they are well worth reading more about.

Among many things, Greeley left us with this glimpse into one of the Christmases they spent on their frigid expedition.  Once again we are reminded of the curious and warming power this holiday has on our hearts. And of all places, at the North Pole.

"It appeared surprising that the mere fact of the sun having commenced its northward journey should have such a marked effect upon the spirits of the men as was visible in the days immediately following the winter solstice. It was the most striking illustration of the many instances in connection with our Arctic experiences as to the powerful influence exercised over the physical conditions of the body by the existing mental conditions.
The solstice past,  the attention of the expedition was drawn to other considerations incident to the season,  the most important of which were the preparations for the  proper celebration of the Christmas holidays.   It was fortunate that the preparations for Christmas entailed certain work and physical exertion on the part of some of the party, as Sargent Brainard, who laid systematically kept the men at useful labor, completed the last steady outdoor work on the 22nd, when the officers' quarters were completely banked up with snow. 
This labor, with the ordinary routine, sufficed to keep the men from brooding too much over the contrasted conditions as to the coming and past Christmases, and yet kept their minds healthfully on the pleasures of the holidays.

In order that the quarters should be especially neat and tidy for the coming celebration, they were overhauled a day or two in advance, and the floor was thoroughly washed and scraped.
The fact of washing out our quarters may seem an ordinary circumstance to a person unaquainted with the particular conditions of Arctic life, but it was perhaps an unique experience that the sleeping-quarters of an Arctic party were thoroughly washed and scoured in mid-winter.  Whatever water is brought into the quarters in this manner must necessarily be taken up by the air and deposited elsewhere in the shape of hoar-frost.  The fact that water continuously froze on the floor in all our rooms necessitated scraping the floor after washing it.  This precaution, with a slight increase in the fires, succeeded in giving us thoroughly clean quarters for our Christmas exercises, without any inconvenience or suffering following."