Crew Stories: Celebrating Orthodox Christmas on Cruise Ship

Oct 24, 2019

During my first contract, I spent my birthday alone. Sure I was surrounded by people but not the ones that I wanted there – my parents, my sister, and my best friends. That moment was very difficult. I was less and less happy near the end of my contract. One of the worst moments was Orthodox Christmas (January 7th) that we celebrate at home. 

Other people onboard celebrated Catholic Christmas on December 25th and everything was more formal and festive then, there was even a special dinner at the Crew Mess. 

On December 25th the ship was already being decorated for New Year's Eve and it looked beautiful. There was a special section on Deck 5 where the bakers presented their decorations: sweet houses made from cookie dough, Santa Claus and a scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. 

The house was decorated with cotton candy. Everything was so colorful in expectation of the New Year. Presents were put under the trees and it was custom that they are handed out to children the day after Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas Eve, however, is quite different. It signifies and represents peace and it is mostly celebrated with the closest family members. The dinner is by no means grand but rather modest, spiritual in a way. After dinner, we would go to Church to light the Badnjak on fire and pray to God. It really is my favorite holiday. 

We spoke with several Crew members who were cooks and bakers in an attempt to create an atmosphere similar to the one we have back home. The idea was to combine the useful and the beautiful and to make two types of food – for those who were fasting and for those who weren’t. We didn’t have enough time to divide the days and we wanted the same rights that people from other nations had.

We wanted our own dinner and an opportunity to celebrate in our own sacred way. Unfortunately, we were laughed at that day and were shown an unbelievable amount of disrespect. The deal was that the cooks put a roast pit on a special part of the table at 10 PM and to mark it as “Orthodox Christmas celebration” but no one did that and the pig was just put there. When I arrived there at about 10.10 PM there was nothing left but bones. My colleagues described the whole thing as an “Attack on pork” from the other crew and that it was like they never had meat in their lives. No one else could even get close and try to take a piece. I was so unbelievably shocked and angry. 

One girl tried to console me with the words “Come and see how beautifully we decorated everything plus the bakers made an amazing bread”. She grabbed my hand and pulled me away. I could not believe the level of disrespect and bad manners behavior.

Thankfully our table was decorated so beautifully that I was able to calm down and forget this whole thing for a bit. We had wine and special glasses, the baker guy described how he made the bread and how much trouble he went through because he had to bake it in the night shift and away from everyone. There was about 20 of us, everyone was grateful for the diner and the effort everyone made. I had a glass of wine to calm down after everything and for a moment it looked like everything bad had passed.  About 6 of us lifted the big bread and tried to divide into similar sized parts so that the others can have a piece. It is a tradition in our culture and it symbolizes sharing and goodwill. At the moment when we broke the bread in pieces, we yelled: “OOOO PA”, another tradition.

It was an important moment for us and we were very happy and calm, but it was ruined by all the people who were sitting around the other tables. All the other crew around started yelling “BU! BU! BU! UUUUU!”. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life, the feeling of sadness and disappointment. You just can’t figure out if you want to beat them up or pity them for their rudeness and stupidity. The mood of the entire group was ruined and few of the guys started arguing with the rude crew and telling them how stupid they are.

 A couple of us girls went there to calm the situation, got the guys back and just had a drink with them. I had to do one more shift at the Wheelhouse Bar but I was crushed after this whole situation. Only on one contract, I had a real Orthodox Christmas celebration, even in Seabourn Cruise Line ships I just survive disappointed. They would say a day before that we will have Orthodox Christmas just so they would cancel it at the last moment…