Tag Archives: Christmas

50 years ago: Australia and the Apollo 8 mission that sent a Christmas message from the Moon



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The role downunder played in helping track the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon.

Tristan Moss, UNSW

Apollo 8: Launch countdown …
NASA387 KB (download)

It was on December 21, 1968, that Apollo 8 launched from Cape Kennedy, in Florida, sending US astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr and William Anders on the world’s first human mission to the Moon.

Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman leads the way as he, James Lovell and William Anders head out to the launch pad for the historical Apollo mission to the Moon.
NASA

A few days later – on Christmas Eve Houston time, Christmas Day in Canberra – the three astronauts had just passed over the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon and were approaching a lunar sunrise when they sent back a historic Christmas message to the people of Earth.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Why can I sometimes see the Moon in the daytime?


A few hours later, an Australian tracking station took over as prime data and relay receiving site for the mission.

Located among the gum trees and kangaroos just outside Canberra, Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station listened for the crucial acquisition of signal as the spacecraft emerged from behind the Moon on its final orbit, having fired its engine to return to Earth.

Australia’s Honeysuckle Creek tracking station acquired the Apollo 8 signal in December 1968.
Hamish Lindsay, Author provided

Honeysuckle Creek received and retransmitted astronaut Jim Lovell’s first words to Mission Control on their way back home:

Apollo 8: ‘Santa Claus’
NASA268 KB (download)

Houston, Apollo 8, over. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.

Apollo 8: the mission that ‘saved 1968’

The Apollo 8 mission was just the second crewed outing for the type of spacecraft that would ferry astronauts to the first lunar landing the following year.

Initially the mission was to test the lunar module in the safety of Earth orbit. But with that spacecraft still not ready, NASA took the bold decision to launch a command and service module around the Moon by itself as a precursor to a crewed landing.

Astronauts (left to right) William Anders, James Lovell Jr and Frank Borman in training for the Apollo mission.
NASA

Also spurring the decision was the belief that the Russians were close to launching their own Moon shot.

Apollo 8 was the first manned launch of a massive Saturn V rocket, the first rendezvous with the Moon, and the first time human eyes saw the far side of the Moon.

The six-day mission was a spectacular success. The three astronauts completed ten orbits of the Moon and the spacecraft and ground support were thoroughly tested.

NASA was now one step closer to that “giant leap for mankind”.

Earthrise, taken by astronaut William Anders, December 24, 1968, from on board Apollo 8.
NASA

The astronauts also took the now iconic “Earthrise” photograph of the Earth behind a lunar landscape. This was a profound image, containing all of humanity, bar the three astronauts.




Read more:
Earthrise, a photo that changed the world


Although the religious nature of Apollo 8’s Christmas Bible reading caused some controversy after the mission, it was heard by hundreds of millions of people.

That the message was transmitted from further than humans had ever been – the distance led to a delay of one second into all communications – made it all the more remarkable.

One member of the public famously wrote to NASA to credit the mission with having “saved 1968”, a year otherwise plagued by war and protests over Vietnam, civil rights and other issues.

Supporting Apollo down under

The Apollo program that enabled the first humans to leave Earth’s orbit was overwhelmingly an American endeavour, but not exclusively so.

At a time before dedicated spacecraft communication satellites, NASA relied on a chain of tracking and data relay stations around the world to communicate with Earth-orbiting satellites and astronauts. To ensure adequate coverage, these included stations in far off places such as Madagascar, Nigeria and Woomera in South Australia.

For missions further into the solar system, NASA used three principal stations: one near Canberra in Australia which included Honeysuckle Creek, another at Madrid in Spain, and the third at Goldstone in California.

At least one of these three stations would have a dish that would face the spacecraft at any given time, receiving their communications and passing them to Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

Honeysuckle Creek.
Hamish Lindsay, Author provided

This was a global network of instantaneous data and voice communications, at a time when even a single international telephone call had to be booked weeks in advance and was extremely expensive.

For Apollo 8, Honeysuckle Creek received telemetry and voice communications when the spacecraft first went into orbit behind the Moon, when it first emerged back into communication with Earth, and when it began its fiery re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere on December 27.

Australian technicians were responsible for the vital task of aligning the dishes with the spacecraft and troubleshooting any problems that might arise with the equipment, a not unlikely occurrence with 1960s technology.

Technicians work at Honeysuckle Creek.
National Archives of Australia (A1500, K20417), CC BY

Support for other missions

While only Lovell would fly again, on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, all the equipment and procedures tested on Apollo 8 – the spacecraft, the NASA technicians and the global network of tracking stations – would support the remaining Apollo flights.

Honeysuckle Creek was shut down and dismantled in 1981 but its receiving dishes moved not far away to Tidbinbilla.




Read more:
Australia’s part in 50 years of space exploration with NASA


Australia continues to play an important role in space exploration with scientists and technicians still supporting support NASA.

They are involved as part of the Deep Space Network, tracking spacecraft such as the New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and multiple missions to Mars.

As for the two Voyager spacecraft, which have travelled the furthest of any object made by humans, they now only have contact with Earth via Australia.

Even on Christmas Day, Tidbinbilla will be receiving messages from spacecraft around the Solar System.

So when you send a Christmas message this year, spare a thought for those messages from the Moon 50 years ago, and the role Australian scientists played in receiving them.The Conversation

Tristan Moss, Lecturer, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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What Australian soldiers ate for Christmas in WWI



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Cover of the menu for the AIF Christmas Dinner, Hotel Cecil, London, in 1916. Illustration by Fred Leist.
Museums Victoria collection, donated by Jean Bourke

Heather Merle Benbow, University of Melbourne and Deborah Tout-Smith, Museums Victoria

We have just concluded four years of commemoration of the centenary of the first world war and, although the guns fell silent in November 1918, by Christmas many Australians were still separated from their loved ones.

For Australians serving overseas in WWI, celebrations such as Christmas were particularly difficult, a reminder that the war had laid waste to their routines and taken them away from their families.

We can see from historical documents that every effort was made to reproduce the form and content of a traditional Christmas meal, whether that be on board a ship, in the mess or even in the trenches

On active service

Maintaining the traditions of Christmas could be logistically difficult. It was often simply a slightly larger amount of food than the normal rations, with additional treats, such as the half pound of Christmas pudding that Major-General John Monash procured for every man in his Third Division in 1917. Alcohol was a welcome addition.

Women distribute Christmas billies to men in Cairo, Egypt, December 1915.
Australian War Memorial

Christmas hampers and billies sent from home provided particular joy to those lucky enough to receive them.
Some, however, experienced Christmas dinners like that of Private John Chugg of 1st Light Horse Field Ambulance, who complained “it was a miserable Xmas” in Egypt in 1914: “boiled beef unpeeled potatoes and tea without milk… [and] no mail or anything to cheer us”.

Sapper Alfred Galbraith described Christmas day in Ismailia Camp, Egypt, in December 1915 in a letter to his family. Each man chipped in to purchase a turkey and

chickens more like humming birds, soft drinks and a few biscuits. The chickens were dealt out 1 between 5 men and some of them would not feed one let alone 5 men, the one we got we tossed up to see who would get it & I won but I half it with my pal & then the two of us went & bought some […] biscuits & some tin fruit.

Alf is depicted in a photo of the dinner, sitting awkwardly on canvas at the end of a row of soldiers, mess tins in front of each and an occasional bottle, likely of beer. Alf’s Christmas letter concludes nostalgically “Dear Australia the land of my Birth which we will all be glad to see again … it will be a glorious day if I live to see it out … ” It was to be his last Christmas.

AIF troops celebrating Christmas at Ismailia Camp, Egypt, in December 1915.
Museums Victoria

A special meal could have the effect of making the war recede, if briefly, for the soldiers who partook of it. This is the impression gleaned from the menu for the 1917 Christmas dinner at the “A” Mess of the 3rd Australian Divisional Headquarters in France, led by Monash.

The hand-drawn menu features bucolic sketches of rural French life, and a list of dishes in a mix of French and English, signalling the prestige of the officers’ dinner.

The 10 courses included hors d’oeuvres (olives and “Tomato au Lobster”), potage _(“_Crème de Giblet”), poisson, entrée (chicken), viands (pork and ham), legumes, sweets (three choices) and a cheese tart, ending with wine and coffee.

The menu served at an AIF Christmas Dinner in 1916.
Museums Victoria collection, donated by Jean Bourke

The “B” Mess dinner at the Headquarters was almost as sumptuous, but with fewer courses. Its more simple menu included a humorous script, poetry and parodies. When the food concluded a toast was made to “Absent Ones”, drunk “while softly murmuring the words ‘Not lost but gone to CORPS’”. Notably, the term “Lest We Forget” was used to remind diners of good etiquette!

Christmas in transit

The voyage to active overseas service was a mixture of excitement, trepidation and monotony. Food service broke the boredom of long days at sea. On board the SS Suffolk on Christmas day 1915 diners were treated to a multi-course dinner, opening with olives, mock turtle soup and salmon cutlets in anchovy sauce. The next course featured iced asparagus, beef fillets with mushrooms and prawns in aspic, before the food became even more serious, with four types of meat, baked and boiled potatoes, and beans.

Members of the 4th Australian Field Ambulance at Christmas in Lemnos in 1915.
Australian War Memorial

Four deserts followed, including plum pudding with both hard and brandy sauces. Like many special occasion menus of the war, diners signed their names on the back.

Aprés la guerre

The desire to be “home by Christmas” had been widely expressed from the very first year of the Great War, yet when the armistice finally came in 1918, Australians on active service still had a long journey ahead of them and faced another Christmas away from home.

In 1918, the 2nd Australian pioneers officers’ Christmas dinner took place “somewhere in France”, featuring a menu entirely in French save for the words “plum pudding” and “God Save the King”. Two half pages of the menu were dedicated to “Autographs”.

The souvenir menu card from the 13th Australian Field Ambulance 2nd anniversary dinner, held on Christmas Day 1918 in the Palace of Justice, Dinant-Sur-Meuse, Belgium likewise has a page for autographs. The festive menu features an extensive list of desserts.

The menu served to the 13th Australian Field Ambulance on Christmas Day 1918.
Museums Victoria collection, donated by John Lord

Christmas dinner in 1919 saw Australians who had served in Europe returning home on the SS Königin Luise, a German ship allocated to Britain as part of war reparations. A menu saved by Sergeant Tom Robinson Lydster bears no references to the war.

A wreath of holly frames an eclectic menu including “Fillet of Sole au Vin Blanc, Asperges au Beurre Fondu” but also “Lamb cutlets, Tomato sauce, Roast Sirlion of Beef”. The Christmas element is provided by “Plum Pudding, Brandy Sauce, Mince Pies”. More than a year after the end of the war, some surviving Australians were yet to celebrate Christmas on home soil.

Christmas traditions for Australian soldiers, nurses and medics helped maintain cultural normalcy during overseas service. Yet Christmas on active service could be a time of significant stress, a reminder of loved ones far away and of fallen friends. Unfortunately, for those who returned to Australia, forever changed by their experiences, Christmas was not always what they remembered or had imagined.The Conversation

Heather Merle Benbow, Senior lecturer in German and European Studies, University of Melbourne and Deborah Tout-Smith, Senior Curator, Society & Technology Department, Museums Victoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Silly Season Break


Just a quick post to let everyone know that this Blog will be on a break from now, over the silly season and should return early in the New Year. This isn’t so much because of Christmas and the New Year directly, but because my work schedule is so great and I won’t have the time to put in on the Blog during this period. I would have liked to keep up the posts, but it has become clear I just can’t keep it up at the moment – it is far too busy at work and with increasing staff shortages over the next couple of weeks, it will not get any easier.

Let me also take the opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe Christmas, and New Year period. Enjoy this time with family and friends.


Friday essay: dreaming of a ‘white Christmas’ on the Aboriginal missions



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Christmas Dinner, Mt Margaret Mission 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

Laura Rademaker, Australian Catholic University

This story contains images of people who are deceased.

Aboriginal missions, which existed across Australia until the 1970s, are notorious for their austerity. Aboriginal people lived on meagre rations – flour, sugar, tea and tobacco – and later, token wages. At some missions, schoolgirls wore hessian sacks as clothes or skirts made from old bags.

Christmas, however, was a joyful time on them. Old people remember Christmas for food, gifts and carols. But the celebration had a sinister edge. For years, missionaries hoped the joy of Christmas would replace Aboriginal traditions. But Christmas actually became an opportunity for creative cross-cultural engagement, with Aboriginal people adopting its traditions and making them their own.

The food was a respite from the usual diet of damper, rice or stew. On the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory, missionaries would shoot a bullock, and the old women remember feasting on beef and mangoes on the beach.

Oenpelli Mission (Gunbalanya) Christmas, 1928.
National Archives of Australia

Missionaries used food to attract people to church. Christmas might be the only day of the year that it was distributed to everyone. Cake was a favourite. On Christmas Day at Gunbalanya in western Arnhem Land in 1940 the superintendent called it “the happiest we’ve experienced here. Ten huge cakes for Natives – no complaints – 106 at service” (suggesting that church attendance was linked to cake quantity).

For elders on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, turtle-egg cake was a highlight of Christmas in the 1940s. As Jabani Lalara recalled:

We used to have a lovely Christmas … In front of the church, that’s where they used to put the Christmas tree and that’s where we used to get a present. Especially like cake, used to make from turtle egg. I love that cake. True.

Gifts were another drawcard. On Christmas 1899, the Bloomfield River Mission in far-north Queesland was said to be “overflowing” because Aboriginal people “heard there would be a distribution of gifts”. These included prized items such as handkerchiefs, pipes and knives. At some missions, Santa (often the superintendent) distributed gifts.

Father Christmas arriving at Mt Margaret Mission in a rickshaw, 1945.
State Library of Western Australia

However looking back, old people have mixed feelings about the gifts. As much as they loved them at the time, they discovered their treasures were only toys that white children had rejected. As one person told me:

We didn’t have much in them days, it was tough, but we were happy. We were happy with those secondhand toys at Christmas from the Salvation Army. We didn’t know they were secondhand toys at the time. I found out in my later years.

Christmas rally church service, Fitzroy Crossing Mission, 1954.
State Library of Western Australia

Missionaries and Aboriginal people alike loved carols; they were an opportunity for shared enjoyment. Tiwi women look back fondly on their time singing with nuns. Said one woman:

Sister Marie Alfonso, she used to play organ and all of us girls used to sing in Latin, but we still remember… Every Christmas [the old women] sing really good. They all can remember that Latin. It’s really nice.

There were also nativity plays, with Aboriginal children proudly performing for their communities. Said another:

When there was Christmas or even Easter Day there was a role-play… On Christmas Day I used to read. Three of them was the Wise Men and the other one was Mary and the other young boy was Jesus.

Christmas at Nepabunna, C.P. Mountford, 1937.
State Library of South Australia

Behind the lightheartedness came an agenda. As one priest commented, Christmas was to be a “magnet” to draw people into missions. Ultimately, missionaries hoped the celebration of Jesus’s birth would prove more attractive than Aboriginal people’s own ceremonies.

For those who would not settle on missions, Christmas was used against them. At Yarrabah in Queensland the “unconverted heathens” were invited to join the festivities, but their exclusion was symbolised by them walking at the back of processions, sitting at the back of the church and being the last to be served their meal.

Aboriginal Christmas

In missionaries’ eagerness to use Christmas to spread Christianity, they started to use Aboriginal languages (with Aboriginal co-translators). At Ngukurr in southern Arnhem Land and Gunbalanya, the first church services in Aboriginal languages were Christmas services (in 1921 and 1936).

Aboriginal people loved carols, so these were the first songs translated. On the 1947 release of the Pitjantjatjara Hymnal, Christmas carols were the most popular (The First Noel sung in parts being the favourite). On Groote Eylandt, translation began with Christmas carols, nativity plays and Christmas readings in the 1950s. At Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island in Arnhem Land, the annual Christmas Drama was in Yolngu Matha from 1960.

Translation was meant to make missionary Christianity more attractive, but it opened the way for more profound cultural experimentation. Aboriginal people infused Christmas with their own traditions. On the Tiwi Islands, in 1962 there was a “Corrobboree Style” nativity on the mission told through traditional Tiwi dance. Dance traditions missionaries had previously called “pagan” were now used by Tiwi people to share the Christian celebration.

At Warruwi on the Goulburn Islands in western Arnhem Land, Maung people began “Christmas and Easter Ceremonies” from the 1960s, blending ceremonial styles with Western musical traditions as well as their own music and dance. At Wadeye, in the Northern Territory, “Church Lirrga” (“Liturgy Songs”) include Christmas music, sung in Marri Ngarr with didjeridu. The Church Lirrga share the melodies of other Marri Ngarr songs that tell of Dreamings on the Moyle River.

Many who embraced Christianity sought to express their spirituality without missionary control. At Milingimbi in the NT, Yolngu people developed a Christmas ceremony with clap sticks and dijeridu outside the mission and free of missionary interference.

Mt Margaret Mission Christmas, 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

At Ernabella Mission in South Australia in 1971, people began singing the Christmas story to ancient melodies, with the permission of their songmen. Senior Anangu women at Mimili, SA, later sang the Pitjantjatjara gospel to their witchetty grub tune, blending Christmas with their Dreamings and songlines.

Christmas was woven into community life. Just as introduced animals found their way into Aboriginal songs and stories, Christmas became part of the seasons and landscape, as Therese Bourke explained at Pirlangimpi on the Tiwi Islands:

They used to have donkeys [here] and the donkeys used to come round in December. And my mother’s mob used to say, “they’re coming around because it’s Christmas and Jesus rode on the back of one.”

The missions transformed into “communities” under a policy framework of self-determination in the 1970s, although missionaries themselves often remained active in the communities for decades. Meanwhile, many Aboriginal people have mixed memories of the missions – fondness for some aspects, anger at others – including Christmas.

The ConversationBut regardless of the missionaries, Christmas became an Aboriginal celebration in its own right. Some missionaries even came to appreciate Aboriginal ways of celebrating Christmas in line with their Dreamings. Though missionaries had wanted to replace Aboriginal spirituality with a “white Christmas”, it became a season of deeper meetings of cultures.

Laura Rademaker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Modern History, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Silly Season Break


I wasn’t going to have a break from posting blog posts over Christmas – New Year, but I have now decided that I will. I’m just too tired not to have a break. So at some point I’m going to go bush, throw up the tent and read some books (modern-style). I could really use the break right now. Still, from time to time I may post something I come across. This will be an extended period, from the time I post this update, through to the middle of January 2018. From that point I’ll get back to more regular posts.

So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a great Christmas and New Year, and enjoy the time with family and friends if you can. – now something for a parting laugh


A short history of three very famous Christmas carols


Peter Roennfeldt, Griffith University

Singing and Christmas seem to go naturally together, like plum pudding and custard. Even those who would not normally attend a choir concert or church service throughout the year might happily participate in a civic Carols by Candlelight or a Midnight Mass. In these settings, the carols come thick and fast, and everyone joins in, almost involuntarily. But what is the origin of the choral music which adorns these settings?

The tradition of carol singing dates from the Middle Ages, and was not restricted to the Christmas season. There were carols for Easter, for New Year, and sometimes even for political events such as the Battle of Agincourt.

The poetic form was simple: a succession of stanzas with different texts, interspersed with a recurring refrain. In more recent times, the term “carol” has come to mean any song associated with Christmas.

Medieval carols from England and elsewhere have survived, though much transformed.
Good Christian Men, Rejoice dates from the 14th century, though only its text has been reliably attributed, to the Dominican friar Heinrich Seuse (Suso). The melody is known in Latin as In dulci jubilo (in sweet joy), and has been frequently used as the basis of extended instrumental or vocal compositions.

This song found its way into English through the 1853 publication Carols for Christmastide by J.M. Neale. This and other volumes of carols contributed materially to the Victorian era’s wholesale adoption of seasonal trimmings, along with royally sanctioned Christmas trees and greeting cards.

During the centuries between the first iteration of a carol tradition and the Dickensian revival of the Christmas spirit in the mid-1800s, there was comparatively little in the way of English composition of new works in this genre. A few pieces that are more appropriately termed Christmas hymns were, however, produced during the 18th century.

One of these is Adeste fideles or O Come, All Ye Faithful. Its authorship is disputed, but the most likely source is the 1751 volume Cantus diversi, published by John Francis Wade. Like most other Christmas carols, its text has clear Christian references.

Interestingly, it is also thought to contain covert Jacobite symbolism, with the phrases “all ye faithful” and “to Bethlehem” referring respectively to the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie and England itself. Wade fled to France after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, but his hymn soon came into regular use, particularly amongst English Catholics.

An indication of its wider adoption is the inclusion of O Come, All Ye Faithful within the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, a familiar modern day tradition inaugurated at Cornwall’s Truro Cathedral in 1880. In the age of mass media, this most renowned Christmas ceremony, as practised in King’s College Cambridge has become universally familiar, firstly on radio and then television. Choirs around the world also perform their own Lessons and Carols programs every December, and most often conclude with this piece.

The most famous Christmas carol of all time is undoubtedly Silent Night, Holy Night. The original words for Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816 and the melody two years later by Franz Xaver Gruber, when both were living in villages near Salzburg.

The German version was published soon afterward, and the familiar English translation in 1859, since when it has become known in nearly 150 languages. Due to its universality, Silent Night was in 2011 designated by UNESCO as an intangible item of cultural heritage.

With its stereotypical overlay of European winter costumes and snow-covered fir trees, the translation of Christmas traditions around the world is problematic. In Australia, there have been several attempts to develop parallel traditions of carols that eschew northern hemisphere references, in favour of local culture.

The best known are those composed by W.G. James, former federal controller of music for the ABC, to texts by John Wheeler. Outback images of drovers, summer heat, red dust and red-gold moon, dancing brolgas, mulga plains, Christmas bush, gully creeks and grazing sheep recur throughout these songs.

They were published in several sets, commencing in 1948. Despite several recordings by major ensembles, their familiarity and popularity has fluctuated greatly. However, two of James’ carols recently made it into a “top 10” list of Aussie Christmas songs by the Australian Times, whose target audience is expats living in the UK.

The tradition of singing Christmas carols is embedded in the season, even though the contexts where they are performed may differ widely from that where the words and music originated. We happily ignore the obvious disconnect between the imagery of some familiar carols and our hot Australian summers, and there is something reassuring about hearing and singing them once again, with feeling, every Christmastime.

The Conversation

Peter Roennfeldt, Professor of Music, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Origins of Holiday Traditions



Christmas in Numbers



Article: History of Eggnog


The link below is to an article that looks at the history of eggnog.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/154902


Article: The 12 Days of Christmas


The link below is to an article that considers 12 facts about ‘The 12 Days of Christmas.’

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/157451


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