In the festive season, while many in the UK eagerly anticipate Christmas surrounded by family and friends, seafarers often face a contrasting reality. Thousands of miles from home, they experience heightened loneliness and isolation, especially when stationed in foreign ports. This was the case for the crew of a ship docked in Felixstowe port just before last Christmas, who found themselves without a Christmas tree to mark the festive season. Responding to this need, Julian Wong, Stella Maris regional port chaplain for East Anglia, who received a last-minute request from the ship’s cook. Julian’s swift action to procure and deliver a Christmas tree, complete with lights and baubles, to the vessel epitomised the spirit of giving. The joy and gratitude on the crew’s faces as they decorated their tree were a testament to the impact of such simple acts of kindness.
“I was able to get a small but very nice Christmas tree, lights and baubles for them. The crew were waiting for me to arrive. They immediately put up the tree, lights and baubles. The smiles and joy on their faces said it all.
“I also gave them two big bags of Christmas presents. The cook thanked me for getting the tree at short notice. He said it would have been his first Christmas without a Christmas tree had it not been for Stella Maris’ help,” said Julian.
These seafarers, often away for up to ten months at a time, are crucial to the UK’s import system. An estimated 90% of all goods, including everyday items like fridges and oranges, arrive by ship. The importance of their role becomes even more apparent during the festive season, ensuring that children wake up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning. However, working on massive container ships, such as the 400-metre-long MSC Irina, can be a solitary and exhausting experience, often with no more than 25 crew members onboard.
Through small gestures like Julian’s, Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers across the country strive to bring Christmas cheer to these essential workers. They recognise the immense value of these acts of kindness in boosting the spirits of seafarers during the festive period. For those interested in supporting seafarers this Christmas, Stella Maris offers various volunteering and donation opportunities. This festive season, let’s also keep the seafarers and their families in our thoughts, acknowledging their significant contribution and the personal sacrifices they make. To learn more about Stella Maris and how to help, visit www.stellamaris.org.uk