As we approach the final two artifact features in this year’s series highlighting 25 artifacts from within the Diefenbunker’s collections, today, to celebrate the holidays, we are featuring a Christmas dinner menu from 1976.
An annual Christmas dinner is a Canadian military tradition where junior members are served by their superiors — officers, warrant officers, and senior non-commissioned members show their appreciation to soldiers, corporals, and privates for their hard work in the past year. This culinary ceremony can be traced back to the 18th century. It became commonly referred to as the “Soldiers’ Christmas Dinner,” where soldiers would not only be served food by their superiors, but would also be entertained by them through songs and skits. In some military units, the tradition also includes the youngest member switching places with the Commanding Officer for the day, being granted the authority to issue orders in a playful way. Though traditions vary among units in the Canadian Armed Forces, the overall practice of role reversal often occurs to this day during the holiday season.
This menu in the Diefenbunker’s collections is from the Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Carp Soldiers’ Christmas Dinner on December 16, 1976. The menu is approximately six inches tall and contains, in descending order, cocktails, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and coffees and teas that were served for the evening. Alongside the menu is a Christmas message from the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel W.R. Scott, which states: “The year just ending has been a busy yet productive one. Despite manpower shortages, we have maintained an excellent operational record and, bit by bit, began to revitalize many of the secondary but vitally important aspects of life on a military unit. This has been possible through the dedication and professionalism shown by the servicemen and women and civilians who form the backbone of this unit. To you all, thank you & well done. I am proud to have served as your Commanding Officer. Best wishes to you and your families for this holiday season and for the New Year.”
The Soldiers’ Christmas Dinner tradition at the Diefenbunker likely occurred annually during the site’s operation as CFS Carp from 1961 to 1994. As explained by David McBride, teletype and cipher technician from 1963 to 1970 and again from 1978 to 1982, “they’d have the big Christmas dinner where everybody was involved, but they also had on Christmas Day a smaller deal, not on quite as epic a scale,” for those who were unable to go home to their families on Christmas.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces continue to be away from their loved ones each holiday season. We invite you to support organizations like Operation Santa Claus, which delivers holiday care packages to deployed Canadian troops worldwide to show that they are always in our thoughts, especially during this time of year.
In the words of Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel W.R. Scott, and on behalf of all of us here at the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum, best wishes to you and your families for this holiday season.
Stay tuned as we continue to celebrate our 25th anniversary by uncovering stories from our museum’s collections.