Merry Ship-mas

Throughout the golden age of sea exploration, seafarers always managed to find a way to mark the big occasions with celebrations that brought a little bit of home on board. For many of us on the Revelle (as for so many others around the world!), this year was our first holiday season away from home. Fortunately, one perk of being in port on Christmas, rather than out at sea, was that we still had solid enough internet connections to call loved ones and say hello. And everyone on board did their part to make things feel as festive as possible.

A woman in a white lab coat, safety goggles, a black mask, and a pair of reindeer antlers uses a red squeeze bottle to wash laboratory equipment.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography chemist Melissa Miller sported a festive pair of antlers while cleaning her labware on Christmas Day.

Although suitcase space is tight when packing for nearly 80 days away, many of us made sure to squeeze in a few Christmas decorations to brighten up the ship. I brought a string of lights to decorate my lab bench, but other favorites included several tiny Christmas trees and a plethora of Santa hats. Santa himself arrived sometime in the night and dropped off gifts of chocolate for everyone in the science party!

There are no holidays off when you’re on board a research ship. On Christmas, there was lots of unpacking, organizing, and tying down to before we set sail the next day. But after we finished a hard day’s work, Ruth and Richard, our wonderful cooks, made us a traditional Christmas dinner — complete with ham, potato gratin, and a phenomenal baked brie. After dinner, many of us found ourselves in a downpour on the back deck watching fireworks go off across Honolulu. There was even an impromptu ukulele concert by yours truly, although I had only managed to learn about three Christmas songs by then.

A small pile of wrapped Christmas presents and red envelopes sit under a tiny, decorated Christmas tree. In the background, several computer monitors display oceanographic data.
This tiny Christmas tree served as a waypoint for Santa, who dropped off red envelopes containing chocolate bars for each of the science party’s members.

We had grander plans for a Christmas celebration, but they were derailed by the rain on Christmas Day and then further delayed by some wild seas over the first couple of days out of port. But on Monday, we finally got the chance to do our White Elephant gift exchange. For those unfamiliar with the concept, everyone participating in a white elephant brings a single, wrapped gift that anyone might like. When it’s your turn to go, you can either open a new present or steal one that has already been opened by someone else.

At the beginning, people were quite hesitant to steal from one another (although I attribute this more to the fact that everyone wanted to open their own present than to politeness), but things got quite heated as the swap went on. Some of the most-stolen gifts included chocolate-covered espresso beans, a Nerf gun, and a travel-sized set of magnetic games. I ended up with a LEGO racecar — now all I need to do is build a track so we can do speed trials!

In no time at all, it will be time to ring in the New Year on the Revelle. I can’t wait to see what my creative shipmates come up with to mark the occasion!

Giuliana Viglione is a journalist and science communicator who has joined Senior Research Scientist Barney Balch’s research cruise to study the impact of coccolithophores in the Southern Ocean. On board the ship, she’ll be helping the team carry out experiments, document the research cruise, and conduct educational outreach with students across the country. She can be reached at

Merry Ship-mas
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