To The Worlds:
Holiday Celebrations On Mars
By Chris Oakley
From the December 2110 issue of Space Colonists Monthly:
OK, folks, in the interest of full disclosure I should mention right off the top that I have a personal investment in the topic of this article. Iím related to one of the early Martian colonists on my motherís side. That said, Iíd like to introduce you to some of the people who call the Red Planet home these days and share with you some of the ways they mark their respective culturesí most important holidays.
Our first stop is the headquarters of the UNís Mars colonial administration office. When you disembark from the passenger shuttles that serve the commercial routes between Mars and the great lunar spaceports, the first thing you see is the towering white communications antennae on top of the roof of the chief administration building; the man who services those antennae is a genial Scot who, when heís not ministering to the administration officeís communications equipment, plays Kris Kringle for the younger children of the Martian colonies. "Iíve been doing this for, oh, must be about ten years now." says Ewan MacColl, senior communications engineer for the UN Mars colonial administration. "The important thing when youíre looking after kids who are far from home is to keep them connected to their roots."
MacColl is certainly well qualified to speak on this topic; between the ages of four and eleven his family lived on a hydroponic farm along the Martian equator, and they spent a great deal of time and energy on making a home life for Ewan as normal as they possibly could. This included observing all the amenities of the Christmas holiday-- in spite of the annoying minor detail that in order for Ewanís Christmas lists to reach the North Pole they had to travel distances that would have had Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey gaping in absolute disbelief. Even Kris Kringle must sometimes find it a bit challenging to get his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer across millions of miles of empty space.
MacColl made his debut as Marsí unofficial substitute Santa when the person normally occupying that role was hospitalized in an accident stemming from a glitch with an artificial gravity unit aboard one of the supply ships that service the Martian colonies. "It was kind of a last-minute thing, actually." he admits. "I knew sod-all about being Santa and even less about the families who I was going to be visiting on my rounds..." But he turned out to be surprisingly good at his new job, and heís been working at it every Christmas ever since. Indeed, some parents at the Martian colonies can scarcely imagine anyone else doing the job; when rumors briefly circulated last year that MacColl might be replaced as Santa, the Mars colonial administration offices were bombarded with e-mails, holovids, and voice messages which brimmed with outrage that colonial officials would even consider such a thing.
Leaving Mr. MacColl to his work, we next visit the synagogue at the New Tel Aviv colony, the first Israeli outpost to be established on Mars. The New Tel Aviv synagogueís congregation is the oldest such Jewish gathering on the Red Planet; though for most of its history it consisted chiefly of 2057 Tel Aviv earthquake survivors and their immediate families, in recent years an increasingly larger segment of the colonyís population has been made up of Mars-born colonists. But regardless of whether a New Tel Aviv resident was born there or has emigrated to the colony from Earth, colony chief rabbi Baruch Levy is on hand to ensure they observe the proper customs for the colonyís annual Hanukkah celebrations. And you can rest assured he takes his duties very seriously.
"Without tradition, a people are as directionless as a ship without a compass." Rabbi Levy says, meticulously preparing the menorah his synagogue will be using for the eight days of the Hanukkah festival. "That was one of the first things I learned in my Torah lessons, and I have never forgotten it." He may be practicing his faith millions of miles from where it originated, but the milieu in which he does it uncannily resembles that of the ancient temples of Galilee and would be instantly familiar to his forebears. Thatís hardly a surprise, given that Levy holds a history degree from Haifa University and has written five e-books on ancient Hebrew temple architecture. He also maintains a personal collection of Judaica that, were it to be put on public display, would constitute the second-largest such museum collection on the Red Planet.
In addition to his work looking after the spiritual well-being of the New Tel Aviv colonists, Rabbi Levy is extensively involved with the Mars Jewish Affairs Council, which he helped create and served as chairman during the first decade of its existence. He subscribes to the notion that as a rabbi he has a vested interest in the welfare of every Jew, not just those in his immediate temple; this philosophy was one of the driving forces behind the Councilís establishment. When the founders of the New Tel Aviv first made the agonizing decision to leave the ruined Israeli capital and emigrate to Mars, Rabbi Levy worked tirelessly to be sure that the traditions the emigrants had known for countless generations wouldnít be lost on the journey to the Red Planet; it was in the course of that work that he first met many of the people who would later be instrumental in helping him create the Council. "My faith means everything to me," he says as he gives the menorah a final once-over, "and I shall continue to work for its preservation until my last breath." And looking at the painstaking way he goes about his duties, your correspondent has every reason to believe Rabbi Levy will live up to that pledge and then some.
Not surprisingly, the Arab colonists who started emigrating to Marsí southern hemisphere in the mid-2060s have readily adapted to the hot climate of the Martian desert. Indeed, it took just eighteen months from the time the first Arabic outposts were established on the Red Planet for construction to begin on a mosque to service the spiritual and cultural needs of those outpostsí residents. The mosqueís current imam, Awad el-Farouk, is a son of one of the original foremen on the construction crews which built it; for him, accepting the job of being its spiritual leader was a kind of homecoming. "I can still hear my fatherís footsteps echoing through the halls." Imam al-Farouk reflects as he prepares for the Eid ul-Fitr festival that traditionally marks the end of Ramadan on the Islamic calendar. "He must have spent months, years, working on this place." And al-Farouk isnít shy about getting his own hands dirty when it comes to the upkeep on the mosque; in between services he can often be found laboring right alongside the maintenance crews who keep its solar power generators and central climate control unit functioning.
To remind him of his responsibilities to his community, and of the Saudi Arabian home his forebears left behind, Imam al-Farouk keeps a hologram of the famed Kaaba building in Mecca on his desk and a copy of the Quíran dating back to the 19th century at his bedside. He also possesses a prayer rug donated by friends back on Earth and believed to be the only such article of its kind salvaged from the ruins of Jakarta after the 2072 cyclone which leveled that city. When he kneels on that rug, he cannot help but think of the thousands of people who were killed or left homeless by that catastrophe; accordingly, he spends much of his time and money contributing to the UN international fund which helps finance coastal defense efforts in Indonesia and other parts of Earth vulnerable to violent cyclones or hurricanes. "Allah tells us we are all our brotherís keeper." he explains. It is a philosophy by which the imam has lived his entire life, and one which also serves as a cornerstone for his work as a spiritual leader.
As a means of helping his fellow Islamic colonists comply with the ancient rule requiring Muslims to face Mecca during their prayers, al-Farouk has devised a special GPS program which gives a constant update of the colonyís position relative to the Earthís rotation. This program lets the Arab colonists keep track of Meccaís place in the rotation at any given moment and thus makes it easier for practicing Muslims on the Red Planet to fulfill the time-honored directive; although the imam is reluctant to boast about his accomplishment, many of his family and associates are more than willing to sing the praises of the modification(in fact, most of them had already signed up to have it downloaded to their GPS devices by the time I arrived on Mars). Another means by which the imam helps to keep the Eid ul-Fitr tradition alive millions of miles from where it began: heís one of fourteen people who co-owns and maintains the hydroponic garden which grows the date fruits used by the colonists in their customary pre-prayer Day of Eid breakfast.
Our next stop is a modest collection of prefab cottages in Marsí Utopia Planitia region; these cottages are home to a unique group of colonists, to be more specific the only neo-pagan outpost north of the Martian equator. Most of their brethren have historically preferred to settle in Marsí southern hemisphere, but the residents of this outpost-- officially designated by UN colonial authorities as Station 132B and known by the outpost citizens themselves as New Avalon --have long been known for their inclination to march to a different drummer even by the liberal standards of the larger modern polytheistic movement.
The leader of New Avalon, who was born Gavin Hudson but prefers to be called by his adopted pagan name Decius Sunfire, says the choice of site for the colony was revealed to him in a vision he had one night three months before he left Earth. As he tells it, he was walking through the heart of London when the vision came to him. "I was looking at Nelsonís Column," he says, "when I heard a voice saying the gods wanted to show me a vision of the future. I stood still and opened up my mindís eye and right in front of me, almost like I was seeing it in a hologram, was a picture of this land and the people dwelling in it." Later that same night he drew the picture on a sheet of paper, and with that New Avalon was born. Decius then proceeded to relate his vision to some of his fellow neo-pagans, and within a matter of days passenger shuttles were carrying the first contingent of settlers to the Utopia Planitia site.
Located in the center of the New Avalon complex, and standing out in distinct contrast to the cottages which house the colonyís residents, is a geodesic dome which serves as the main gathering site for all colony religious ceremonies, including the annual Yule festival observed here every December. "Thatís when things really come alive here." Decius tells us with noticeable pride. "Everybody here, from the youngest children right up to the oldest council members, takes part in the celebrations like thereís no tomorrow." And three years ago, there almost wasnít one; during what BBC Space has immortalized as "the Boxing Day Meteor Disaster", a chunk of stellar debris roughly the size of an old-style laptop hit the dome and punctured its outer protective layer, causing an environmental malfunction that killed a dozen people and led for calls by some of the survivors to abandon the colony and return to Earth. But Decius persevered, and eventually all talk of giving up the New Avalon settlement died down. Indeed, over the past year there has been a growing movement with the colony to expand its population base by inviting other neo-pagans from Earth to join them.
Peering through an old-fashioned telescope to be sure New Avalon is in the correct orbital position for the sunrise gathering that is a key element of the colonyís Yule festivities, Decius is moved to observed: "Itís interesting to know that no matter far from home we stray, we always take a part of it with us...if it werenít for the plasti-steel frame overhead and the labor mech drones scuttling past the viewports outside, being inside the gathering dome could almost make me think that I was back home in England." Thatís hardly surprising. considering terraforming engineers spent the better part of a year and a half working to recreate the climate and vegetation of the English countryside within the domeís walls. They even managed the difficult and rather impressive feat of establishing a grove of trees suitable for providing Decius and his fellow colonists with the Yule logs that are a key part of their winter solstice rituals.
Because of time and editorial constraints, there are many wonderful stories which I have sadly been forced to omit from this article. But before we take our leave of the Red Planet and begin the trip back to Earth, Iíd feel Iíd be remiss if I didnít take at least a second to pay tribute to a special group of men and women who do a great deal to keep the colonists secure so they can practice their respective faiths. They are the troopers of the UN Mars Colonial Defense and Security Corps, and every human being who calls Mars home owes them a considerable debt of thanks...and for that matter so do many of us here on back on Earth.