Lighting the Hanukkah Candles in McMurdo

The lit Hanukkah Menorah on the Last Night of Hanukkah

Hanukkah party decorations

Since the Antarctic summer season falls over a number of holidays including, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year's, people are interested in how the holidays are celebrated down here. I have written a post on Thanksgiving. The next holiday to be celebrated is Hanukkah. It is not the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but has grown to prominence in the United States because it falls around the same time as Christmas. Part of the holiday is to light a candle for every night of the holiday such that on the first night, one candle is lit, on the second night, two candles are lit, and so on and so forth. Technically, lighting candles is strictly forbidden at McMurdo. For this reason, the base requested special permission to allow a celebration. Permission was granted for one menorah to be lit only in the McMurdo galley, and the fire marshal had to be present. (The menorah is the base that holds all of the candles. There is a special one for Hanukkah with space for nine candles -- one candle for each night of Hanukkah and one candle to light all of the others.)

The most interesting thing about celebrating Jewish holidays in Antarctica is deciding when they actually start. Under the Jewish calendar, all days start at sundown, but during the Antarctic summer, the sun never sets. And there was no actual consensus about when the candle lighting should take place. I had heard that it was celebrated based on the closest land mass where the sun actually sets (i.e., New Zealand). Someone else said we should celebrate with Jerusalem, and yet a third said we should celebrate based on our home time back in the US. Ultimately, though, we just had to go with the time that the fire marshal was available, which was 7:15 p.m. There was also a nice party with latkes, matzah ball soup, the retelling of the Hanukkah story, and dreidel on the fifth night. Overall, I had a very nice holiday! Happy Hanukkah!!!


  • Jenna Kloosterman