Christmas in Space! Astronauts Celebrate a Special Cosmic Holiday in Orbit

Merry Christmas from the International Space Station! The crew of Expedition 58 beamed home their jolly holiday wishes today (Dec. 25) on the 50th anniversary of the first Christmas in space.

"This holiday season, I find myself looking down at 'home' a lot," NASA astronaut Anne McClain wrote on Twitter just before the holiday Sunday (Dec. 23). She shared an amazing view of the Earth and moon from space with the message. "We really are all on this amazing, beautiful planet together – it truly is a small world. And when I watched the moon set over the horizon today, I once again found myself without words."

During the Apollo 8 moon mission on Dec. 25, 1968, NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders finished up their historic first flight around the moon and began their journey back to Earth. That Christmas Eve, Anders snapped the iconic "Earthrise" photo showing planet Earth peeking over the lunar horizon

Today, another crew of three will be spending the holiday in space. Currently living and working aboard the International Space Station are McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. [Holidays in Space: An Astronaut Photo Album]

While McClain and Saint-Jacques get to enjoy the day off, Kononenko has "minimal duties" to carry out today, NASA spokesperson Dan Huot told in an email. "The only tasks on their schedule for Xmas besides meals and exercise are some blood and saliva sample draws for human research studies," Huot said. 


Happy holidays from space! NASA astronaut Anne McClain (right) and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency search for the Elf on the Shelf aboard the International Space Station in a Christmas 2018 video. (Image credit: NASA)

On the dinner menu is a traditional holiday feast with smoked turkey, candied yams, corn, green beans, mac and cheese and potatoes au gratin. For dessert, they'll have strawberries, bread pudding, butter cookies and shortbread cookies "with several different colored icing packs to decorate," Huot said.


These holiday treats arrived at the space station Dec. 8 on the SpaceX Dragon CRS-16 cargo spacecraft. If the astronauts received any Christmas gifts from their families back on Earth, those items "may have flown in the crew flight kits on CRS-16," too, Huot said. "These are always private to the crewmembers." 

Although the crew haven't publicly revealed any Christmas gifts that may have been shipped to them on the Dragon, they did bring up some of their own holiday cheer when they launched to the space station on Dec. 3. Dangling inside their Soyuz crew capsule during the flight was an "Elf on the Shelf," which has since been keeping a watchful eye over the crew from various places around the space station — and reporting any naughty or nice behavior back to Santa Claus. 

When the astronauts awaken from their slumber tomorrow (Dec. 26), they'll be going straight back to work, Huot said. And while astronauts have typically have New Year's Day off work, this year they have to work through the holiday. "As of now, they have a full work day scheduled on Jan. 1," Huot said, adding that the crew will be loading cargo into the Dragon CRS-16 spacecraft and conducting science operations. "Whenever the crew is asked to work a holiday, though, they get an extra day off in the future to make up for it." 

Kononenko will likely have the day off on Jan. 7 for Eastern Orthodox Christmas. Russians traditionally open their Christmas gifts on Dec. 31, so we'll have to wait a few more days to see if he received any goodies from his family and friends back on Earth. 

Email Hanneke Weitering at or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Original article on

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.