Weeks before Christmas, the first tradition in Royal Navy Ships and Establishments to always take place was the stirring of the Christmas pudding.
At sea this event would be undertaken by the Captain, Supply Officer and youngest serving matelot. The huge Christmas pudding mix, which features plenty of rum, is stirred and placed into smaller containers for each mess.
Food, of course (not to mention drink) is a huge part of any Christmas and in my experience, Christmas at sea had a very unique and special feel about it. Before the main course though there was always one very special tradition that everybody (with the exception of the Captain maybe) looked forward to.
The youngest serving member of the ships company would be Captain for the day and would undergo a complete role reversal with the C.O. This caused much envy and resulted in some strange decisions and pipes being made, but all taken in the right spirit.
Christmas day would start with ‘gimpy gifts’ in the mess whereby everybody received a ‘present’ from their oppo. The gift would normally be an insult and would highlight any faults and inadequacies of the recipient!
On hearing the pipe ‘standby for Captain’s rounds’ the mess would muster and await the youngest sailor in his newly empowered guise. Lagging behind him would be the real skipper, in the role of Bosun’s mate, trying his best to blow the bosun’s call! After a beer and best wishes they would proceed to conduct rounds in the rest of the messdecks, no doubt a bit bleary eyed by the end.
Next up Christmas dinner and another tradition equally looked forward to was where the officers served, waited upon and washed up after the Junior Rates.
Christmas dinner was always a banquet and would consist of all the trimmings including the usual roast turkey/gammon/beef, plenty of vegetables, pigs in blankets etc and all washed down by a glass (or 3) of wine, followed by that well stirred Christmas pud!