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Christmas at the Poles: emotions, food, and festivities on polar expeditions, 1818–1912

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2016

Shane McCorristine
Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EN (
Jane S.P. Mocellin
Rue Parc Jean Monnet 185, Saint Genis Pouilly, 01630France


In this article we survey descriptions of Christmas celebrations contained in the diaries and narratives of polar explorers (mostly British) from 1818 to 1912. We find that Christmas was a time almost universally associated with the display of positive emotions, although this was in the context of increased amounts of stress associated with the challenges of over-wintering at high latitudes. Firstly, we argue that Christmas was crucial to the well-being of expedition participants because it opened emotional channels that enabled them to cope with stress. Secondly, we argue that Christmas revealed a play space in which certain types of normally deviant behaviour were welcomed. Thirdly, we argue that Christmas was a major nutritional event for over-wintering crew members, satisfying a need for calories that was rarely met in the everyday rations.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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