International Space Station astronauts hang stockings and light a menorah for the holidays (images, video)

The crew of the ISS celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah in space
The crew of the International Space Station celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah in space during the 2023 festive season. (Image credit: NASA/ISS Crew)

The crew of the space station celebrated a multidenominational Christmas this year, hanging stockings for Santa alongside a menorah "lit" with pretty felt flames. 

The menorah was brought aboard the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli and adorned with a felt flame each night when Hanukkah, the Jewish festival, ran earlier this December. Felt was chosen as a material for the menorah due to understandable restrictions concerning lighting fires on spacecraft and space stations.

"My husband and little girls helped make a felt menorah, with lights for each night, that I can pin on to celebrate with them. So I'm excited to do that," Moghbeli, the second Iranian-American to reach space, said during a press conference in July, as Space.com previously reported.  

The NASA astronaut added that during the festive season here on Earth, her family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, just as she was able to do in orbit this year.

Related: NASA astronaut will celebrate Hanukkah in space with felt menorah

Moghbeli, who also celebrated Hanukkah in space by spinning a dreidel earlier in December, sent season's greetings from the ISS to everyone back home on Earth, clearly missing celebrating the holidays with family.

"Merry Christmas from the space station," the NASA astronaut and ISS flight engineer wrote on her X feed, formerly Twitter. 

"While I especially miss my friends and family back home this time of year, I wouldn't trade the unique memories I'm making with my space family. We have found little ways to make the holidays feel like the holidays up here. Later today, we will all share a holiday meal and decorate cookies together."

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Moghbeli celebrated the holidays with the rest of the Expedition 70 team currently occupying the ISS, including commander Andreas Mogensen from the European Space Agency, flight engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Loral O'Hara (NASA), and Roscosmos or Russian flight engineers Konstantin Borisov, Oleg Kononenko, and Nikolai Chub. 

Part of the Expedition 70 crew on the International Space Station gathers in front of stockings and a felt menorah. From left: Satoshi Furukawa (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Andreas Mogensen (European Space Agency), Loral O'Hara (NASA) and Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA). (Image credit: NASA/ ISS Crew)

The astronauts took Christmas Day off to open presents and enjoy a Christmas dinner, following a busy week that saw two cargo spacecraft depart the ISS (SpaceX Dragon and Northrop Grumman Cygnus). The crew watched the 1989 slapstick comedy "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", and O'Hara celebrated the arrival of her nephew, the NASA astronaut posted on X.

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The Christmas stockings chosen by the current ISS crew may not have been quite as festive as those hung in houses across Earth over Christmas 2023, taking the form of grey and black thermal socks. 

The crew was able to add a little festive cheer to these slightly drab thermal sock stockings by donning Santa hats that stand straight up, thanks to the microgravity experienced by the ISS in low Earth orbit roughly 250 miles (400 kilometers) about our planet.

The Expedition 70 crew journeyed to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft (MS-23) on Sept. 27, and is set to return to Earth in spring 2024. Expedition 70 commander Mogensen also sent Christmas greetings home ahead of his return to terra firma. 

"As we orbit high above Earth, I want to send warm wishes to all of you down on Earth on this special day. Whether you're celebrating Christmas or simply enjoying the festive spirit, may this special time bring you joy with your family and friends," he wrote on X

"Here on the space station, we have the 25th of December off to celebrate Christmas, where we share special food, relax, and open packages from our families that came up with the last cargo vehicle.

"As we mark this day in space, may you have a happy holiday season."

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Robert Lea
Contributing Writer

Robert Lea is a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.