Space Station 20th: Celebrating the Holidays in Space

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The Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s holidays are typically joyful events spent with family and friends. Astronauts and cosmonauts who happen to be in space during the holidays have found their own unique ways to celebrate the occasions. In the early years of the space program, holidays spent in space were relatively rare events, such as the flight of Apollo 8 around the Moon during Christmas 1968, making them perhaps more memorable. As missions became longer and more frequent, holidays in space became less rare occasions. For the past 20 years, holidays spent aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have become annual, if not entirely routine, events.

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Left: The famous Earthrise photograph, taken by the Apollo 8 crew in lunar orbit.
Video of the Apollo 8 crew of Frank Borman, James A. Lovell,
and William A. Anders reading from 

The first crew to spend Christmas in space, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders, spent the holiday while circling the Moon in December 1968, the first humans to have left Earth orbit. They immortalized the event on Christmas Eve by taking turns reading the opening verses from the Bible’s book of Genesis as they broadcast scenes of the Moon gliding by below. An estimated one billion people in 64 countries tuned in to their Christmas Eve broadcast. As they left lunar orbit, Lovell radioed back to Earth, where it was already Christmas Day, “Please be informed there is a Santa Claus!”

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Left: The makeshift Christmas tree aboard Skylab in 1973. Right: Skylab 4 astronauts
Gerald P. Carr, left, and Edward G. Gibson trimming their homemade Christmas tree.

During their 84-day record-setting mission aboard the Skylab space station in 1973 and 1974, Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, William R. Pogue, and Edward G. Gibson celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s in space. They were the first crew to spend Thanksgiving and New Year’s in orbit. Carr and Pogue spent seven hours on a Christmas Day spacewalk to change out film canisters and observe the passing Comet Kohoutek. They had built a homemade Christmas tree from leftover food containers, used colored decals as decorations, and topped it with a cardboard cutout in the shape of a comet. Once back inside the station, they enjoyed a Christmas dinner complete with fruitcake, talked to their families, and opened presents. They even had visitors of sorts, as Soviet cosmonauts Pyotr I. Klimuk and Valentin V. Lebedev were in orbit aboard Soyuz 13 between Dec. 18 and 26, marking the first time that astronauts and cosmonauts were in space at the same time (and at five, the largest number of people in space up to that time).

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Aboard Salyut-6, Georgi M. Grechko, left, and Yuri V. Romanenko, toast to celebrate
the new year in space, the first Russian cosmonauts to do so.
Credits: RKK Energiya.

In the more secular Soviet era, the New Year’s holiday had more significance than the Jan. 7 observance of Russian Orthodox Christmas. The first cosmonauts to ring in a new year in orbit were Yuri V. Romanenko and Georgi M. Grechko, during their 96-day record-setting mission in 1977 and 1978, aboard the Salyut-6 space station. They toasted the new year during a TV broadcast with the ground. The exact nature of the beverage consumed for the occasion has not been passed down to posterity.

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Left: STS-61 mission specialist Jeffrey Hoffman with a dreidel during Hanukkah in 1993.
Video of Hoffman describing how he celebrated Hanukkah aboard
space shuttle 

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration of the recapture of Jerusalem and rededication of the Second Temple in 164 B.C.E. It is celebrated in the month of Kislev in the lunar Hebrew calendar, which can fall between late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. NASA astronaut Jeffrey A. Hoffman celebrated the first Hanukkah in space during the STS-61 Hubble Space Telescope repair mission in 1993. Hanukkah that year began on the evening of Dec. 9, after Hoffman completed his third spacewalk of the mission. He celebrated with a traveling menorah, unlit of course, and by spinning a dreidel.

The STS-103 crew of Claude Nicollier, left front, Scott J. Kelly,
John M. Grunsfeld; Steven L. Smith, left rear, C. Michael Foale,
Curtis L. Brown, and Jean- François A. Clervoy, showing off their
Santa hats on the flight deck of space shuttle 
Discovery in 1999.

The crew of another Hubble Space Telescope repair mission celebrated the first space shuttle Christmas in 1999 aboard Discovery. For Christmas dinner, Curtis L. Brown, Scott J. Kelly, Steven L. Smith, Jean- François A. Clervoy, John M. Grunsfeld, C. Michael Foale, and Claude Nicollier enjoyed duck foie gras on Mexican tortillas, cassoulet, and salted pork with lentils. Smith and Grunsfeld completed repairs on the telescope during a Christmas Eve spacewalk.

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Left: Russian cosmonaut and Mir Expedition 17 flight engineer Elena V. Kondakova
with a bottle of champagne to celebrate New Year’s Eve 1994. Right: 
Video of Kondakova
demonstrating the behavior of champagne in weightlessness aboard Mir.

Between 1987 and 1998, 12 Mir expedition crews spent their holidays aboard the ever-expanding orbital outpost. Two crews included NASA astronauts John E. Blaha and David A. Wolf, aboard the Russian space station as part of the Shuttle-Mir Program.

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Left: Video of Mir Expedition 22 flight engineer and NASA astronaut John E. Blaha’s 1996
Christmas message from Mir. Right: Mir Expedition 24 flight engineer and NASA astronaut
David A. Wolf with his menorah and dreidel to celebrate Hanukkah in 1997. 

mir_24_new_years_eve_message_1997 mir_26_new_years_eve_1998
The last two New Year’s Eve messages from Mir. Left: Mir 24 crew of Pavel V. Vinogradov,
left, David A. Wolf, and Anatoli Y. Solovyev in 1997. Right: Mir 26 crew of Sergei V. Avdeyev,
left, and Gennadi I. Padalka in 1998. It was the third time Avdeyev rang in the
new year in space.

The arrival of Expedition 1 crew members William M. Shepherd, Yuri P. Gidzenko, and Sergei K. Krikalev aboard the ISS on Nov. 2, 2000, marked the beginning of a permanent human presence aboard the orbiting facility. They were the first to celebrate Christmas and ring in the new year aboard the orbiting laboratory and began a tradition of reading a goodwill message to people back on Earth. Shepherd honored a naval tradition of writing a poem as the first entry of the new year in the ship’s log.

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Left: Video of Expedition 1 crew members Yuri P. Gidzenko, left, William M. Shepherd,
and Sergei K. Krikalev reading their Christmas message in December 2000 – this
marked Krikalev’s third holiday season spent in orbit. Right: The ISS as it
appeared in December 2000.

Expedition 1 commander and NASA astronaut William M. Shepherd’s
poem, written for the New Year’s Day 2001 entry in the International
Space Station’s log, in keeping with naval tradition.

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Left: A brief video selection of how some expedition crews celebrated Christmas aboard ISS.
Right: From 2019, the 
Christmas message from the Expedition 61 crew members.

Enjoy the following selection of photographs of international crews as they celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, and rang in the new year over the past 20 years aboard the ISS.

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Left: The Expedition 4 crew of Daniel W. Bursch, left, Yuri I. Onufriyenko, and Carl E. Walz pose
for their Christmas photo in 2001. Middle: C. Michael Foale, left, and Aleksandr Y. Kaleri of Expedition 8
celebrate Christmas in 2003. Right: The Expedition 10 crew of Salizhan S. Sharipov, left, and Leroy Chiao
festooned for New Year’s Eve 2004.

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Left: Valeri I. Tokarev, left, and William S. McArthur of Expedition 12 pose with Christmas stockings
in 2005. Middle: The Expedition 14 crew of Mikhail V. Tyurin, left, Michael E. Lopez-Alegria, and
Sunita L. Williams pose wearing Santa hats for Christmas 2006. Right: Posing with their Christmas
stockings and presents are Expedition 16 crew members Yuri I. Malenchenko, left, Peggy A. Whitson,
and Daniel M. Tani, in 2007.

exp_18_christmas_meal_2008 exp_22_christmas_2009 exp_26_new_years_eve_2010
Left: The Expedition 18 crew of E. Michael Fincke, left, Sandra H. Magnus, and Yuri V. Lonchakov enjoy
their Christmas dinner in 2008. Middle: The five-member Expedition 22 crew of Soichi Noguchi, left,
Maksim V. Surayev, Oleg V. Kotov, Timothy J. Creamer, and Jeffrey N. Williams around the Christmas
dinner table in 2009. Right: The Expedition 26 crew of Oleg I. Skripochka, left, Paolo A. Nespoli,
Dmitri Y. Kondratyev, Catherine G. “Cady” Coleman, Aleksandr Y. Kaleri, and Scott J. Kelly celebrate
New Year’s Eve 2010. This marked Kaleri’s third holiday season spent in space.

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Left:  The Expedition 30 crew of Donald R. Pettit, left, Anatoli A. Ivanishin, Oleg D. Kononenko,
André Kuipers, Daniel C. Burbank, and Anton N. Shkaplerov pose for their Christmas photo in 2011.
Middle: Christmas 2012 photograph of Expedition 34 crew members Thomas H. Marshburn, left,
Roman Y. Romanenko, Oleg V. Novitski, Yevgeni I. Tarelkin, Kevin A. Ford, and Chris A. Hadfield.
Right: For Christmas in 2013, the Expedition 42 crew left milk and cookies for Santa and hung
their stockings using the Joint Airlock as a makeshift chimney.

exp_50_new_years_eve_2016 exp_54_vande_hei_elf_on_a_shelf_2017 exp_58_christmas_2018
Left: Expedition 50 crew members Sergei N. Ryzhikov, left, R. Shane Kimbrough, Andrei I. Borisenko,
Oleg V. Novitski, Peggy A. Whitson, and Thomas G. Pesquet celebrating New Year’s Eve in style in 2016.
Middle: Expedition 54 crew member Mark T. Vande Hei strikes a pose as an Elf on the Shelf for Christmas
2017. Right: The Expedition 58 crew of David Saint-Jacques, left, Anne C. McClain, and Oleg D. Kononenko
inspect their Christmas stockings for presents in 2018.

exp_61_meir_hanukkah_socks_2019 exp_61_christmas_message_2019 exp_61_new_years_eve_2019
Three scenes from the 2019 holiday season aboard the ISS. Left: Expedition 61 flight engineer
Jessica U. Meir shows off her Hanukkah-themed socks in the Cupola. Middle: Expedition 61 crew
members Andrew R. Morgan, left, Christina H. Koch, Luca S. Parmitano, and Meir share their
Christmas messages. Right: Expedition 61 crew members Koch, left, Morgan, Oleg I. Skripochka,
Meir, Aleksandr A. Skvortsov, and Parmitano ring in the new year with harmonicas.

We hope you enjoyed these stories and photographs from holiday celebrations in space. We would like to wish everyone here on the ground and the seven-member crew of Expedition 64 aboard the ISS the happiest of holidays!

John Uri
NASA Johnson Space Center
Editor: Kelli Mars

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