Whether onboard ship or at an undisclosed location ashore, I don’t need to tell you how much it sucks to be away from home on Christmas.
Hopefully you get some phone time with your family or an LPO that isn’t a total poop head today.
And a good meal of course, at least something better than BBQ beef cubes or whatever dish you most dislike on board.
Those who wore the uniform in generations before you seem to love saying how hard they had it back in the day, and that today’s Navy and sailors are soft.
But looking at the Navy’s Christmas mess menus from decades past, it’s hard at times to parse out whether the offerings are better or worse.
Some items look good to this day, while others legit make me scratch my head.
With that in mind, enjoy this stroll through Navy Christmas meals of yore, brought to us by the folks over at the Naval History and Heritage Command.
The Year: 1917, about eight months after the United States entered World War I.
The Ship: The “Bulldog of the Navy” Oregon, a pre-dreadnought, Indiana-class battleship commissioned in 1896. Old school.
The outstanding: Oyster soup, chestnut dressing, whatever “Hard Sauce” is, cigarettes.
The unsat: Oyster soup on a ship commissioned in 1896; the prominent placement for celery and radish atop the menu; cluster raisins, which sounds like when you take raisins out of one of those little boxes.
The Year: 1918, Christmas falls a few weeks after Armistice Day and the world is watching the United States take its place on the global stage.
The Ship: The Monterey, the sole Monterey-class monitor in the American fleet.
The Outstanding: Grape juice punch, cigarettes.
The Unsat: This was a time before printers, when OG Seaman Timmy (RIP, probably) had to type up every damn menu. Typos likely abounded. Maybe that’s why turkey is listed with tartar sauce, and baked red snapper was served with giblet gravy.
The Year: 1926. The Great Depression had not yet hit, but World War I was over. “What now?” America asked.
The Ship: The battleship Colorado, first of its class, steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge in 1942 in case of a Japanese invasion, then took the fight to the Pacific, which meant surviving 22 shell hits from shore batteries during the Battle of Tinian in 1944. At the time of this Christmas meal, she was just a young thing, having been commissioned three years prior.
The Outstanding: The pickled eggs (excellent, actually), the oyster stuffing, the cold roast pork, the cigarettes!
The Unsat: The cold boiled ham, this creepy Santa on the menu’s cover. Those kids are like, “naw.”
The Year: 1932. A time of relative interwar peace even as Hitler was set to take power the following year. He’d rebuild the Germany military and then the French would fail to nip his Nazi hordes in the bud and then World War II.
The Ship: USS NITRO! Oh, come get you some! With a name like that, how could it be anything BUT an ammunition ship? Old girl was commissioned in 1921 and strolled into the scrap yard right after WWII.
The Outstanding: “Roast Young Princess Anne Turkey” sounds like something you’d pay too much for at Whole Foods; cigarettes.
The Unsat: Celery hearts? Toasted crackers? That like a CS today saying, “today I can offer burgered ham featuring ketchup.”
The Year: 1941. Possibly the worst December in American history. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor just 18 days prior.
The Ship: The humble Bridge, the lead storeship (AF-1!) of her class, serving proudly through World War I and World War II.
The Outstanding: I never met a sweet pickle I didn’t like, spiced ham is never bad, and sign me up for whatever a parkerhouse roll is; cigarettes.
The Unsat: Mr. Fancy Culinary Specialist coming with the Tomato Madrilene, a cold tomato/gelatin soup. You think you’re better than me??? Crisp saltines, thousand island dressing as its own menu item.
The Year: 1948. Enjoy that post-WWII high, American troops. The carnage of Korea is right around the corner.
The Ship: The aircraft carrier Coral Sea, aka “The Ageless Warrior,” which is also my nickname in the Military Times newsroom.
The Outstanding: “Snow flake potatoes,” giblet gravy, them parkerhouse rolls, cigarettes.
The Unsat: Saltines as a menu item, “fresh frozen french peas,” the uber-religious message of the carrier’s skipper, aka What Could Get You Fired in 2018:
The Year: 1956, Cold War in full effect. Duck and cover, kids!
The Ship: The Barry, a workhorse destroyer that roamed the world and earned two battle stars in Vietnam.
The Outstanding: Not much to rip here — prime rib, squash, Yorkshire pudding (aka the gravy cup you eat), clover leaf rolls, CIGARETTES!
The Unsat: Not sure I’d take salmon-stuffed celery, but otherwise the CS squad was aces with this one.
The Year: 1982.
The Ship: The Cavalla, a Sturgeon-class submarine from back in the day when you could smoke on the boats.
The Outstanding: No one’s hating on the prime rib, almondine string beans are old-school good, shrimp cocktail but only if you saw the triad eat them first.
The Unsat: No cigarettes.
There were of course many other Christmas dinners on countless other vessels over the years, but this was the extent of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s listings, so there you go.
If you are spending this Christmas away from home, just remember that you’ll be home again and will reflect on this Christmas in Decembers future, when you’re among those you love.
It’ll make you grateful to be home.
Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.