The Long Blue Line: Merry Christmas from the Galley! — the Coast Guard’s collection of vintage Christmas Menus

By Nora L. Chidlow, archivist, U.S. Coast Guard


The Long Blue Line blog series has been publishing Coast Guard history essays for over 15 years. To access hundreds of these service stories, visit the Coast Guard Historian’s Office’s Long Blue Line online archives, located here: THE LONG BLUE LINE (

Over the years, various Coast Guard cutters have celebrated Christmas either in port or at sea. Being away from home and family no doubt left a void as evidenced by letters written home. Commanding officers allowed the observance of Christmas with a dinner with all the trimmings. Some men would go ashore and celebrate Christmas while on liberty; others chose to remain aboard. Oftentimes, cutter logbooks would say “omitted general quarters on account of holiday” as the only mention of any Christmas celebrations. It was just another day onboard. 

The idea of Christmas at sea has been synchronous with the calendar itself for as long as time has existed. On Dec. 25, 1917, the United States was in the midst of World War I. For six Coast Guard cutters assigned to convoy duty in the war zone, Christmas was just another day at work, but each had its own celebration. While there is no known official documentation about the observance of the holiday on Tampa, other than the fact that the cutter was moored at Plymouth, England, letters written home by its crew mention Christmas here and there. For instance, Capt. Charles Satterlee was, “glad not to have to spend the holiday at sea,” being on leave somewhere in England. First Lieutenant John Farrell McGourty wrote to his wife about his excitement over receiving her Christmas package. 

The cutter Ossippee, moored at Base Nine, Gibraltar, assisted with a submarine chaser that had broken down Christmas morning. Yet, there was a glimmer of hope as the crew of Ossippee sat down to a Christmas dinner. As 23-year-old Seaman Atlee Burpee Donaghy, of Palmyra, New Jersey, described it in his diary (which is now in the Coast Guard Historian’s Office): 

At 10 a.m., we had our Xmas gifts distributed. Each received a bay of bull, two sweets, two gum, two bars of chocolate, a box of matches, and a package of matches and toothpaste. Later on in the day they gave out soap, shaving soap, brushes, and writing paper. 

For dinner, we had roast turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, asparagus tips, mince pie, nuts, B & B [bread and butter], tea. [There] was plenty for everyone … plenty of song and music. They march [sic] around the deck for a little airing, then about 8 o’clock we [lit] up the foretop with colored electric bulbs and had a revue on the [forecastle] until 8:30. Then we piped down, everybody [was] happy as we had no interruptions for the officers. 

Shipboard Menus 

The Coast Guard Historian’s Office recently unearthed several shipboard Christmas menus in its Archives and Special Collections. They are few, but rather colorful and provide insight into a bright spot in an otherwise monotonous lifestyle at sea. 

Champlain, 1929