Nova Scotia

How Canada's navy celebrated Christmas 7,000 km from home

One of Canada's navy frigates spent the past six months overseas, including the Christmas season. The crew was surprised in early December with gifts, cards, decorations and holiday treats.

HMCS Charlottetown received two shipping containers full of gifts, treats and Christmas decorations

Santa flies in a Sea King helicopter over HMCS Charlottetown as it operates in the eastern Mediterranean Sea during Operation Reassurance on Dec. 24. (Cpl J.W.S. Houck / Formation Imaging Services)

Still have your Christmas tree up? You're not alone.

"I personally have a Christmas tree in my cabin, and I'm not taking it down quite yet," said Cmdr. Nathan Decicco, commanding officer of HMCS Charlottetown. "I'm not ready to give up on Christmas yet." 

Considering the circumstances, he's lucky to have a tree at all.

The Canadian frigate's crew got a surprise last month, four months after leaving Halifax.

Leading Seaman Patrick Turenne puts up decorations aboard HMCS Charlottetown during Operation Reassurance. (Cpl J.W.S. Houck / Formation Imaging Services)

"We were met [in Greece] by two flatbed trucks full of mail from Canada that had been en route to the ship for about a month. They were gifts that our families had put together," said Decicco, speaking to CBC News by phone from aboard the ship.

"It was artificial Christmas trees and decorations and Christmas lights and garlands and all the little accoutrements and things that we're so accustomed to for celebrating Christmas," he said.

Santa also arrived — via Sea King helicopter rather than sleigh.

The ship spent Christmas in the eastern Mediterranean, more than 7,200 kilometres from its home port of Halifax.

Duffel bags of candy

Along with the gifts, letters and decorations, there were also holiday treats.

Every sailor received a small duffel bag of morale-boosting items like candies and treats.

"There's probably around 10,000 calories of goodies in there," said Decicco. "It's great, it really helps to relieve the monotony of everyday not-Christmas food."

That's the equivalent of about 200 full-sized candy canes each.

Crew members enjoy Christmas dinner aboard HMCS Charlottetown in the eastern Mediterranean Sea during Operation Reassurance on Christmas Day. (Cpl J.W.S. Houck / Formation Imaging Services)

The crew also had a Christmas meal on board, "where the junior sailors sit down for a meal and they're served by the senior members of the ship," he said.

"It really adds a little bit of home, when you're far away from home."

International operation still underway

HMCS Charlottetown's six-month deployment was the seventh ship Canada has sent to the Mediterranean region in support of an ongoing NATO mission called Operation Reassurance.

It began in 2014 as a display of solidarity for Ukraine following Russia's annexation of its Crimean Peninsula.

During this latest deployment, the Canadian crew encountered many "non-allied" planes, ships and submarines, Decicco said.

"It speaks to the professionalism of all involved that these interactions are managed in a non-escalatory way," he said.

HMCS Charlottetown will soon start its journey back home, returning to Halifax later this month. 


Brett Ruskin


Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.