At Christmas, “A ship’s crew … maintains the traditions and atmosphere that members would receive while at home”

Lifestyle - Life at Sea / December 27, 2019

“A ship is not a workplace; it is a way of life,” explains Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Curtis Penton.

PO1 Penton has been a member of the Royal Canadian Navy for 15 years, and during this time he has been deployed during the holiday season on multiple occasions.

“This has been my third time being deployed over the holiday season. I deployed onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Charlottetown during OP ALTAIR 2007, second holiday deployment was with HMCS Fredericton during OP SAIPH 2009, and currently deployed onboard HMCS Halifax during OP REASSURANCE,” says Penton.

“Having multiple experiences being deployed from home never really makes the holidays any easier, but the support you get from your fellow shipmates reiterates the fact that the ship is our home away from home.”

Most homes have customs and traditions that help to both signify and celebrate important times of the year and HMCS Halifax is no different.

“A ship’s crew, whenever possible, maintains the traditions and atmosphere that members would receive while at home. For instance, all the messes will join together to decorate the Christmas tree, telling stories of old while listening to their favorite Christmas classics,” explains PO1 Penton.

“Our mess dinner is always a special gathering, placing operational requirements aside for a few minutes to listen to the padre’s blessing prior to devouring some delicious turkey and stuffing.”

Though the ship’s crew does everything it can to bring some of the holiday spirit from home with them, it would be impossible to meet the specific needs of each individual sailor.

“When celebrating Christmas at sea, it can be a really difficult time. There are many mixed emotions on how members of the ship’s crew would like to approach the holidays being away from their love ones,” says PO1 Penton.

“Some members would rather not celebrate at all, avoiding any reminders of what they’re missing at home.”

But not everything they are missing is painful. Though the holidays are the best or favorite time of year for some, the holidays at home are not without their flaws.

“The one thing I don’t like about the holidays is the rush of shoppers trying to purchase that perfect gift, stressing over their ability to buy it at reduced prices,” explains PO1 Penton.

“Parking lots can be a life-threating experience when individuals get in the shopping frenzy. Shopping during the holidays can often take away from the spirt if Christmas.”

All this stress and panic may be for naught. When you ask someone what they truly cherish the most about the holidays, most people will tell you it is the time that they get to spend with the people that they love, and PO1 Penton feels exactly the same.

“The most meaningful gift I have ever received during the holidays could never be placed in a present under the tree. It’s the gift of my parents and siblings traveling from far away to surprise me over the holidays; my kids having their grandparents visit to experience the joys of the festive season.”