As we approach Christmas, my thoughts often turn to the normal stuff we do at Christmas, what did we do last year? What did we do in 2010? 1984? What did our forebears do in 1876 .. family traditions .. love ‘em. I guess you all have some …
The Royal Navy is rammed full of traditions, most of which have their roots in something Nelson did, even the way the RN salute is different to the Army and RAF as (apparently) the senior officers / big wigs did not want to see filthy hands so the palm was turned towards the fore-head .. no idea if its true but its certainly a tradition that has become the norm.
One of the traditions that is still practised is the daily ceremonies of Colours and Sunset. This is basically where we raise the Ensign in the morning and lower it again at sunset (or as we used to say lets go and say good night to the Queen). There is a whole ceremony involving marching / saluting / specific commands etc. When alongside in a port this is overseen and conducted by the Officer Of The Day (OOD). Very often the Captain will come to the flight deck and stand behind the OOD and it better be done correctly, spot on time or the OOD will be summoned to the Captains cabin on completion! Its taken very seriously.
One day in Plymouth I was OOD. All was ready, the rest of the team were in their correct places, I was stood at ease facing the empty ensign staff, flag ready to be hoisted. I felt rather than heard the Captain come onto the Flight Deck and stand behind me. Part of the ceremony is to ring the ships bell 8 times with a slight pause between each pair ‘ding ding … ding ding … ding ding … ding ding’ . The Leading Seaman who was to the ring the bell marched out to me and said ‘Sir, we have a problem’ ‘What?’ ‘Someone’s nicked the clapper out of the bell’. ‘Just sort it Leader’ replies I. A minute later after the Command ‘Make it so’ from me I heard the Leading Seaman shout in a gruff voice ‘dinger dinger … dinger dinger … ‘ I thought he may use a screwdriver or something. No. He said dinger dinger 4 times. Lets just say I was summoned to the Captains Cabin.
Thing with traditions is that they can actually become the main thing, the tradition itself becomes so important that we lose sight of what we are actually doing it for. It’s like that at Christmas isn’t it ? We always open our presents before church .. we always have a turkey .. Grandad always has a whisky before dinner … Aunt Mabel always has a sherry whilst cooking lunch .. we always watch the Queens Speech. There is nothing wrong with these things per se, but when they become more important than the whole story of Christmas, the message of hope come to earth in the form of a baby, then somethings come wrong somewhere!
So with a few weeks to go before Christmas (its called ‘advent’ of course) it’s the perfect time to look again at traditions and routines that we may have and put them into a right perspective with the whole message of the Christmas story … Jesus born that he may save us from our selves. Did it really matter that the Leading Seamen said ‘dnger dinger’? No, it didn’t, the ship still functioned that day, it did not effect our capability in any way … it was just a tradition.
Image Credit: Nikola Jelenkovic