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Astronauts Get Two Christmases in Space

Christmas comes twice to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station this year as the multi-nation crew celebrates the traditional Dec. 25 holiday as well as Russian Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.

Current station commander Jeff Williams of NASA is leading a crew of five, including Russian cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Oleg Kotov, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and American spaceflyer Timothy "T.J." Creamer.

Kotov, Noguchi and Creamer arrived just recently, docking at the station aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on Tuesday.

"We're privileged this time of year to be in this unique place looking back at our planet," Williams said in a video beamed down from the orbiting outpost. "It's a time for us to be thinking about our family and friends... It's also a time to look forward to the future year, finishing the assembly of the International Space Station." 

Each year, the crew gets to choose when to hold their official holiday feast, during which they gather to share special delicacies beyond the scope of their normal daily rations.

This year, the spaceflyers have all elected to take American Christmas and American New Year's as their official holidays, NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said.

Nonetheless, there will likely be some festivities on all the upcoming occasions, including the Russian Christmas. 

"They'll probably celebrate a little on both," NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said.

Space feast

The special treats for Dec. 25 include smoked turkey, candied yams, green beans with mushrooms, and cornbread dressing.

"There's the traditional food, and also I think that Soichi is bringing up some Japanese food, and of course they have the Russian food," Byerly said.

That day will be a particularly light one, with minimal duties scheduled for the astronauts. They will have a chance to make phone calls and send e-mails back home, and of course, enjoy their meals.

"They gather around the table and kind of break out all the food," Byerly told SPACE.com. "They probably barter with one another and trade different foods. It's a big feast."

 Christmases past

Christmas has a storied history in space that began with Apollo 8, when astronauts read Genesis from the moon. That year, in 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders sent a Christmas Eve broadcast back to Earth showing the now-famous view of Earth rising over the lunar surface.

In 1973, the crew aboard the U.S. Skylab space station constructed a homemade Christmas tree out of empty food cans.

Later, on Russia's Space Station Mir, NASA astronauts John Blaha and David Wolf celebrated American Christmas in 1996 and 1997, respectively.

The crew of space shuttle Discovery's STS-103 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope celebrated the holiday by releasing the rejuvenated observatory back into space.

Since 2000, astronauts have lived continuously on the International Space Station and have celebrated the holidays each year.