Christmas and New Year in the Navy Collection
This collection is dedicated to Christmas and New Year in the Navy and will inform you about the history and traditions in a few different nations. Christmas and New Year have always been those long-awaited holidays typically celebrated with your nearest and dearest. Navy folks, however, often spend these holidays away from home -- either at sea or on a naval base. Over the century, when Christmas and New Year evolved into a global cultural phenomenon, these holidays also gave birth to special naval traditions that came to be associated with them. It is these naval traditions inspired by Christmas and New Year festivities that this new collection is all about.
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In many countries, it is customary to establish patronage of cities or even entire regions over ships named after them. In the Netherlands, such a time-honored connection exists between the province of Groningen and the warships that carried its name. Since destroyer Groningen was commissioned in 1956, the province has donated a Christmas tree to the ship's crew every year, and the crew attach this tree to the ship's mast.
This tradition dates back to the 16–17th centuries. On their last voyages to Scandinavia and the Baltic before the shipping routes froze over, Dutch merchant sailboats would tie a fir tree to their masts. This served as a signal to let Dutch folks staying in overseas ports for the winter know that they could leave letters and parcels on board for delivery home. Even when a regular mail service was established, that tradition didn't wane. The people of Groningen cherished the tradition so much that when the same-name destroyer was decommissioned in 1981, they asked the naval authorities to temporarily assign another ship to carry a Christmas tree. That honor was granted to the frigate Kortenaer. When a new patrol ship named Groningen joined the Navy in 2013, she picked up the tradition, and it has been fervently observed ever since.
Every year on December 5, children in the Netherlands receive gifts from Sinterklaas for good behavior. Legend suggests that Sint lives in Spain and travels to the Netherlands only for the festive season, which starts in mid-November.
He prefers to arrive from Spain by sea aboard a steamboat called Pakjesboot 12, which is, in fact, the old but extremely reliable research vessel named Hydrograaf. Put afloat as far back as 1910, she served the Royal Netherlands Navy faithfully for half a century. Admittedly, Sinterklaas knows a thing or two about seamanship—only strong and enduring ships are ordered by the military.
When Sinterklaas' steamboat anchors at a designated Dutch seaside town, he disembarks and parades through the streets on a white horse. Moving from town to town, Sinterklaas brings seasonal joy to young and old alike. To congratulate the crews of Royal Netherlands Navy ships at sea, Sinterklaas uses the good old method of transferring fuel, goods, and—should it be necessary—people, between seagoing ships positioned alongside each other. For that purpose, the receiving ship requests data on the speed and bearing of the transferring one (usually a supply vessel) to facilitate a tactful approach alongside it while moving on a parallel course. After that, both ships are connected with lifeline gear. This consists of cable rigging and cargo winches. For fuel transfer, a hose line is used. If crew members are to be moved, the standard practice is to use a rescue basket or, commonly, an ordinary breeches buoy with rubber pants attached.
Ship crews around the world eagerly look forward to Christmas and New Year, but when duty calls, it is sometimes necessary to be deployed during the holiday period. This can mean that sailors have to see in the holidays away from home. On those days, they think about family and friends and share a festive dinner with their crewmates.
An important part of the holiday is sharing congratulations and making wishes, which creates a special atmosphere of joy and celebration. Sailors and officers congratulate each other, and sometimes sending a festive message can involve an entire ship's crew. In the U.S. Navy, there's the good old tradition of the aircraft carrier deck spell-out. This involves a ship’s entire crew forming letters on the deck to send festive messages to people on shore. When aircraft carrier Essex (CV-9) visited the Dutch port of Rotterdam in the Christmas season of 1961, the ship's crew lined up to make the traditional greeting on the flight deck and wished all those on shore a hearty "Merry Christmas!" in Dutch, paying tribute to their hospitable hosts. Aircraft carrier Essex participated in many of the major campaigns of World War II, and from 1955 through 1956, she was subject to a massive modernization program.
It's tradition the whole world over to say farewell to the outgoing year and see the new one in with magazine covers shining with vibrant colors and eye-catching imagery. In 1947, the Dutch Navy launched the Alle Hens magazine for sailors. While it featured historical articles and entertaining material, it also touched upon pressing geopolitical issues. In the 1950s and 1960s, for more than five years consecutively, the cover of its January issue depicted a young child to represent the coming new year. The child "featured" in the changing of the guard, led a military band, and even turned the knobs of a ship's electronic devices. Alle Hens has been in circulation ever since, but it is currently distributed in an electronic format for the general public.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, Sinterklaas is a legendary figure akin to Santa Claus. But unlike Santa, he doesn't live at the North Pole. Sinterklaas lives in Spain, from where he sets out on his sea journey to the Netherlands, carrying gifts for the young and old. Rather than using sleighs pulled by reindeer, he travels all over the country on a white horse. Before going to bed, children leave their shoes next to the fireplace. In the morning, they find them filled with delicious, sweet treats like chocolate, candies, marzipan figures, or pepernoten (Dutch for "pepper nuts"—a traditional Christmas ginger cookie). Sinterklaas carries a magic book that records whether each child has been good or naughty in the past year. Only well-behaved children receive gifts. Naughty children risk being stuffed in Sinterklaas' bag and taken back to Spain.
The arrival of Sinterklaas in the country is always a massively anticipated major event with a full-fledged festival and extensive TV coverage. Every year, on December 5, people in the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas eve with gifts for children and adults alike. In Belgium, however, gifts are given only to kids, and they are happily opened on December 6—Saint Nicholas Day.
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Over the past century, Christmas has evolved into a phenomenon entwined in global culture. Initially, however, the roots of this holiday can be traced back to a Christian tradition. Scenes of the birth of Jesus Christ are depicted in paintings, put on in puppet theaters, and recreated through nativity scenes where figures depict the Holy Family, with Mary and Joseph lovingly gazing upon their newborn son, Baby Jesus. The composition often depicts them accompanied by the Three Magi, angels, and a shepherd with a flock of sheep.
Sailors of the Royal Navy cherished the tradition of setting up miniature Christmas cribs, and they saw it one of the most important components of celebrating Christmas. It was a tribute to the memories of their childhood when they celebrated Christmas with their families, and going to church together for the Christmas service was an essential part of the festivities.
Britain's Royal Navy has always been renowned for its tough discipline. Sailors are expected to obey orders without question, express loyalty to the crown, and perform their duties unflinchingly and in good faith. At the same time, various traditions have existed to distract sailors from the monotony of the routine and rigors of service. One example of this is the "rum ration"—a daily amount of rum given to sailors on Royal Navy ships. This tradition was abolished only in 1971.
Another unofficial tradition bore a link to Christmas celebrations. A specific custom of the military was the Christmas tradition of role reversal. On the day of the festivities, the youngest crew member switched places with the commanding officer for the day. The latter assumed the role of a boatswain and blew the boatswain's pipe as might be necessary. This festive change of roles, which saw a simple seaman take command of an entire ship, raised the crew's spirits and made the day for everyone on board the ship.
Christmas pudding is the centerpiece of festive tables in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries. It is a dessert that includes dough, dried fruit, and nuts, and it is steam-cooked and moistened with brandy. British families often have their own unique pudding recipes. The traditional British Christmas dinner consists of roast turkey with cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, and vegetables. Then the pudding, mince pies, or gingerbread are served.
The pudding is also cooked in Her Majesty's Navy. The process of cooking the pudding and tasting it is a ritual that does not just involve only cooks, but also sailors and the ship's commander. One large pudding is cooked for the entire crew. Then it is cut into portions and served in the ship's berthing spaces and on tables in the officer's mess.
With the outbreak of World War II, factories of peacetime industries were converted into manufacturing plants for weapons and military equipment. Where toys were once made, the production of shells and munitions was carried out. Toy manufacturing continued, but in such small quantities that many families could not afford them.
The fathers and brothers of these families had left their homes to defend their country. Between battles and duties, many took every chance they could to make toys. They carved out wooden ships, planes, and tanks; they built doll houses from whatever scrap materials they had at hand. Such a hobby was a means of distracting oneself from the atrocities of war and diving into the cozy warmth of home and hearth.
The idea for the British sovereign to broadcast a Christmas radio message to the entire nation emerged in 1932. The tradition began with George V when he read the first Royal Christmas Message that had been written for him by the famous writer Rudyard Kipling. Estimates suggest that it was heard by twenty million people scattered across the globe (Australia, Canada, India, Africa, and the United Kingdom).
During World War II, the nation was addressed by George VI. As the crew of cruiser Belfast recalled, the King's traditional message delivered in 1943 reached them out at sea while they were conducting an operation to defend Arctic convoys in harsh weather conditions, far from home. The King's address helped them feel closer to their loved ones who were also sitting by their radio receivers listening to the message. From 1952 until the present day, the annual Royal Christmas Message to the nation has been delivered by Queen Elizabeth II.
Father Christmas is a traditional British character who gives gifts for Christmas. By the 20th century, his image had been greatly changed under the influence of the image of Santa Claus—his American counterpart. Now, you can hardly tell Father Christmas apart from Santa Claus—they both wear a red coat, have a beard, and carry a large sack of gifts.
Initially, British Father Christmas was not a character who brought gifts to children for Christmas. His image was rather associated with the festive traditions of adults and personified triumph and good spirits. Father Christmas wore a holly wreath on his head and had a staff, a cauldron, and a yule log that was traditionally burned at Christmas. It was only in the 19th century that Christmas became a traditional family holiday and Father Christmas developed into the habitual Christmas gift-giver that he still is today.
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Every holiday is always an eagerly awaited event for sailors performing routine service on warships. One of the most important holidays, along with Navy Day and Thanksgiving, is Christmas. The Christmas spirit has the same beneficial effect on sailors, petty officers, and officers alike. During preparations for the holiday, sailors are often relieved of the usually strict rituals of maintaining the ship to keep it neat and tidy. Before World War II, the crew of U.S. battleship Texas would engage in a "secret" competition to decorate the interior of the ship for Christmas.
Things that seemed impossible in other periods of time or during the war took place on Texas every year on Christmas Eve—the ship's internal compartments, and even corridors, transformed into near-real homes, decorated with garlands, wreaths, and artificial snow. In this manner, the crew that had to celebrate the holiday away from their dearest ones managed to recreate those special Christmas celebrations on their ship.
Christmas is a time for miracles and joy, even in periods of hardship. In 1915, at the height of World War I, the crew of U.S. battleship New York addressed their commander and suggested that they arrange a Christmas party for a hundred children from the poorest families in New York.
The crew decorated the ship with Christmas trees in front of the gangway and hung a multitude of white, blue, and red light bulbs, mistletoe, holly branches, and Chinese lanterns on the deck and superstructure. They placed ten large tables next to a main turret and covered them with white tablecloths. A few days before Christmas, the inventor Thomas Edison witnessed the ship being prepared for the holiday. Impressed with the crew's zeal, he donated a significant sum of money to the holiday fund and sent an enthusiastic telegram to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, who officially approved the sailors' initiative. The children were greeted by the ship's commander and Santa Claus himself. The boys received boy scout uniforms, boots, and toys, and the girls were given faux fur capes, shoes, and dolls. A Christmas feast and guided tours around the newest battleship had been prepared for the little guests.
At a later date, the battleship welcomed Japanese Emperor Hirohito; King George V of the United Kingdom; and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson on board, but ever since that Christmas day in 1915, it's the children that have remained the most honored and special guests in the ship's history.
In wartime, when hardship and routine service on a warship are accompanied by life-threatening conditions, humor and "unofficial" jokes are a good cure for stress, even if such a remedy is not always met with approval by commanders.
In December 1943, at the height of World War II, the pilots of a U.S. Navy squadron turned the hatch of the tail machine-gun turret that protected the lower semisphere on an Avenger-type torpedo bomber into a Christmas present. "Don't open till Xmas!" warns the instruction over the hatch. This message was captured by a war photographer, and it shows how military pilots joked between combat missions.
During World War II, meals were standardized in the U.S. Armed Forces, but unlike other military branches, sailors and officers of the U.S. Navy were almost always served with regular hot meals. On holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, a ship's crew could count on a real feast. A Christmas dinner was rich and consisted of many dishes such as fried turkey, ham, bacon, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc. It could also include a mixture of nuts, stuffed olives, onion or tomato soup, canned peaches, ice cream with strawberries, apple pies, cheese coffee, and cigarettes.
On Christmas Eve, American families decorate the facades and backyards of their houses with a variety of festive items—colorful electric garlands, mistletoe and holly wreaths, Christmas trees, and figures of Santa Claus with his helpers, sleigh, and reindeer.
In peacetime, this tradition is also maintained by the U.S. Navy. Whatever the location of the ships, be it continental bases or stations abroad, they are decorated with dozens of meters of electric garlands, sometimes shaped as symbols or phrases like "Merry Christmas!" or "Don't give up the ship!" (the famous command of Captain James Lawrence, who was killed in a battle between the American frigate Chesapeake and the British ship Shannon).
Santa Claus is a character from folklore who brings gifts for Christmas. He is traditionally depicted as a white-bearded old man in a red coat and red hat, and he carries a sack of gifts on his back. Santa Claus is one version of a character who appears in different ways in various cultures—Ded Moroz, Sinterklaas, Père Noël, etc. The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. In the modern Western tradition, Santa Claus has become a classic Christmas gift-giver and influenced the transformation of similar characters in the cultures of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and travels around the world riding on a magic sleigh driven by reindeer. Since 1955, for security purposes, Santa's movements have been monitored in real time by the North American Aerospace Defense Command as part of a special operation. Everyone can join the dedicated phone line or visit the website to observe the flight of Santa Claus.
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In the Soviet Union, New Year celebrations began nationwide in 1935; the Christmas celebration was banned in 1929 during the atheist campaign. The Soviet government "tweaked" the image of Ded Moroz, the East Slavic version of Santa Claus, providing him with an assistant—his grand-daughter Snegurochka. Eventually, tangerines, Salad Russe, and the chime-bells on the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower became the main symbols of New Year celebrations in Russia.
In addition to officially starting celebrations of the New Year holiday, 1935 was also a landmark year for the Soviet Navy. On January 11, by order of the People's Commissar of Defense, the Maritime Forces of the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Far East received the status of full-fledged fleets, and were named the Red Banner Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet, and the Pacific Fleet. On May 27, a new naval flag was established—an iconic white banner with a blue stripe, star, and hammer and sickle. In October, the first Soviet cruiser, Kirov (Project 26), was laid down at the Baltic Shipyard. In December, this shipyard laid down Gnevny (Project 7)—the lead ship of the most mass-produced series of Soviet destroyers of the pre-war period. This is how the creation of the Soviet Big Fleet commenced.
Christmas is typically a quiet time when it comes to combat. However, this was not the case at the end of the first year of World War I, when in the North Sea, the British Navy planned and executed an aerial raid on the German coast. The goal of the attack was the airship hangars at the Cuxhaven base. Cuxhaven, a coastal town in Lower Saxony, was out of range of aircraft based on the British Isles. Therefore, the decision was taken to involve three seaplane tenders, each of which was supposed to launch three aircraft. On December 25, 1914, due to the frosty weather, only seven aircraft were able to start their engines and take off. The outcome of the attack was not a great success, but the raid itself demonstrated the improving operational capabilities of new technology. To cover the seaplane tenders, the entire Grand Fleet was sent to sea—the British seriously expected the German High Seas Fleet to be deployed in response to their air attack. None of the British pilots perished in that operation—three crews returned to the seaplane tenders and were picked up from the water; three more landed near Norderney Island and were picked up by a British submarine. The last pilot landed on water due to an engine malfunction. He was picked up by a Dutch trawler and made his way back home from the Netherlands.
Saint Nicholas—the prototype of Santa Claus—was the bishop of Myra, a city in the Asia Minor region. Another famous figure in the church was the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, after whom French battleship Richelieu was named in the 1930s.
She was the result of naval competition between France and Italy in the period of the 1920s and 1930s—French engineers designed and built the Richelieu-class battleships in response to the Littorio-class battleships that were being laid down in Italian shipyards. The Washington and London Treaties for the limitation of naval armament allowed France and Italy to build capital ships with a total displacement of up to 70,000 tons. Those requirements seriously affected the work of the French and Italian designers, who were forced to comply with the limits. Eventually, France refused to fulfill its obligation to restrict the displacement of the battleship to 35,000 tons—it seemed impossible to build a good modern ship under those conditions. Nevertheless, Richelieu became one of the most innovative and successful treaty battleships in the world.
Xmas is a common English abbreviation for Christmas. The graphically similar designation "Xª MAS" was used for the Tenth Torpedo Motorboat Flotilla—a special sabotage and reconnaissance unit of the Italian Royal Navy that operated in the Mediterranean.
The flotilla was equipped with Maiale human torpedoes—ultra-small submarines for delivering high-powered explosives—and MTM motorboats loaded with explosive materials and used like torpedoes. The operator chose the direction and speed and sent the boat to hit the target. The operations conducted by the Tenth Flotilla in 1941 allowed Italian units to incapacitate heavy cruiser York and battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth in Souda harbor, Crete, and in Alexandria, Egypt. This was a complete surprise for the British. Inspired by the success of the Tenth Flotilla, they decided to create their own units for conducting similar operations.
Despite being neutral during World War II, Sweden began to consistently increase its military expenditure in the pre-war years—from $37 million in 1936 to $322 million in 1939. In 1942, the expenses amounted to $527 million. The price of neutrality was high. The Swedish Navy actively operated in the Baltic Sea—their ships escorted exporting and importing convoys and patrolled territorial waters. In 1942, to reinforce the Navy, they started the construction of the lead destroyer in a series of four new Visby-class ships which were a further development of the previous series of six Göteborg-class ships.
In December 1941, Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Navy base in Pearl Harbor, which marked the beginning of World War II in the Pacific Ocean. Japanese aircraft sank or seriously damaged all eight battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Three days later, they destroyed British battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse. The first months of the war were a triumph for the nation.
Japan's technical achievements in the development of military equipment and armament came as a complete surprise to the Allies. The most prominent example is the story of the development and implementation of the Japanese 610 mm Type 93 torpedo also known as the "Long Lance." The generally accepted standard for ship torpedoes after World War I was the 533 mm caliber. Japanese military engineers decided to develop and adopt more powerful torpedoes, though. As a result, they created a torpedo that surpassed all foreign equivalents in terms of speed and range, and it also had greater destructive power. Moreover, the Long Lance remained a complete mystery to enemy reconnaissance services. During the war, this torpedo destroyed 23 Allied ships, and another 13 ships were heavily damaged.
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|"Santa's Big Gift" container
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