Ormesby Hall's Christmas Ship

A Robin resting on a fence post

After perusing the 1868 diaries of James Stovin Pennyman, one of the previous owners of Ormesby Hall, we have rediscovered a very unusual Christmas tradition. On December 21 1868, he and his family made a 'Christmas Ship'.

On 23 December and again on 25 December (Christmas Day) they spent time rigging the new Christmas Ship and then they painted it on Boxing Day.
 
On first reading the entry, no-one knew what a ‘Christmas Ship’ was, but further research has revealed that this is a tradition that comes from Greece. James Pennyman was born in Corfu, a Greek island, and was obviously recreating a childhood memory by building a Christmas Ship with his own young family: Jemmy, Alfie, Frankie and Edith.
 
In Greece St Nicholas (Father Christmas) is the patron saint of sailors as well as Christmas. They celebrate St Nicholas Day on 6 December with ships and presents. When children go out carol singing they carry model boats containing lights to find their way in the dark and to take their rewards home. In houses people decorate a Christmas ship, coloured with or containing gold for good fortune, and place it either by the front door or by the fireplace, pointing towards the heart of the house. They can also fill it with presents.