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updated 12/24/2010 9:16:48 AM ET 2010-12-24T14:16:48

Before tucking into the rehydrated turkey and opening any presents that may be wedged beneath their two-foot-tall Christmas tree, astronauts aboard the International Space Station sent some holiday greetings back home to Earth.

Since the spaceflyers can see huge swaths of their home planet in one glance, it's no surprise that their messages were full of big-picture perspective.

"From up here, we see one world, one Earth, and all together we should celebrate this holiday," said Paolo Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut, in a video message beamed to Earth this week. "Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year."

American astronaut Catherine Coleman seconded that plea for unity.

"Times are hard all over the world," Coleman said in the video. "But this is a time when we can all think about being together and treasuring our planet, and we have a pretty nice view of it up here."

A low-key Christmas

The six spaceflyers aboard the station will most likely have Christmas Day off, according to NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries. They'll eat some rehydrated turkey, he said, and enjoy a pretty low-key holiday.

"They're going to be generally taking some time off, like everybody else," Humphries told SPACE.com.

The astronauts three Russians, two Americans and an Italian can deck the space station's halls if they want to, Humphries said. People have been living aboard the station continuously for more than a decade now, and during that time a lot of holiday flair has made its way up to orbit including the miniature, artificial Christmas tree.

"They've got a variety of holiday decorations up there," Humphries said.

Humphries wasn't aware of any planned special events on orbit, and he said NASA TV wouldn't be streaming live video feeds from the station on Christmas Day.

Christmas in space

Astronauts have celebrated Christmas and other holidays aboard the International Space Station since 2000, when the outpost's first crew arrived.

But marking Christmas in space long predates the station. In 1968, for example, during the historic flight of Apollo 8 around the moon, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders beamed home a Christmas Eve broadcast showing the now-famous view of Earth rising over the lunar surface.

The crew aboard the U.S. space station Skylab built a homemade Christmas tree out of empty food cans during their orbital holiday in 1973.

NASA astronauts John Blaha and David Wolf celebrated the holidays in space aboard Russia's Space Station Mir in 1996 and 1997, respectively. And the STS-103 crew of NASA's space shuttle celebrated Christmas in space by releasing the Hubble Space Telescope back into orbit after a 1999 service call.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is commander of the current space station crew. He contributed a few holiday thoughts of his own during the recent video message.

"Currently, we're orbiting the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, over 200 miles above our beautiful planet that we should all be thankful to have as our home," Kelly said. "I'd like to wish everyone on the planet Earth a happy holidays and a very merry Christmas."

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall.

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