Nautical Christmas Traditions

by John MacFarlane 2013

Christmas Menu

Christmas Menu 1955 (Photo from the MacFarlane collection. )

Christmas can be a cheerless time for mariners and naval personnel. Serving at sea or as duty personnel on Christmas Day in ships can cut sailors off from the camaraderie of family and friends. Some Christmas traditions (most borrowed from the Royal Navy) make the season a little more tolerable for seafarers.

To lift spirits those on duty on Christmas day, there is a tradition that the youngest members of the ship's company assumed the role of Captain and the Captain traded duties with him (swapping uniforms) – and served the Christmas dinner to the crew. Hanging or mounting an evergreen tree at the masthead and evergreen boughs in the rigging are also sometimes placed.

Captain W.N.T. Beckett DSO MVO RN, in his book "A Few Naval Customs, Expressions, Traditions and Superstitions" (1920) suggests that in past centuries this custom had more serious roots. He states:

"A wet Christmas was a thing to shock the least susceptible, and the Officers as a whole wisely kept clear so as not to excite the men who were entirely out of control. It was not uncommon to find several men and sometimes women dead when discipline was again enforced, and I think from these orgies dates the practice of permitting the harmless buffoonery which still exists and which includes the custom of junior and senior ratings exchanging clothes and duties."

Christmas revelry is now very much more subdued and based in friendship.

Christmas Menu

Christmas Menu 1956 (Photo from the MacFarlane collection. )

These Christmas menus were produced in 1955 and 1956 by the Pacific Command of the Royal Canadian Navy to put a little gloss on the Christmas dinner served in the ships' messes.

Turn a thought to those who serve, often away from the warmth of family, in the ships of the navy through the Christmas season.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2013) Nautical Christmas Menus. 2013.

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