“Buccaneers, like other Europeans and European-derived Christian peoples, did observe the holiday, far more often with raucous, inebriated celebration than with religious devotion.”
— Benerson Little, Pirate Historian
Last Tuesday’s newspaper delivery podcast session started with pirate revels. PARCAST has a new, Spotify-exclusive podcast titled Real Pirates. It’s well done, focusing in the first few episodes on the rise of the so-called Pirate Republic at Nassau on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. The most recent episode, however, broke away to ask the question we all want the answer to: What does a pirate do to celebrate Christmas? The answer is the one we all could come up with: They get roaring drunk. But there’s a little more context than that, and it’s an enjoyable way to spend a half-hour on the road.
The esteemed pirate historian Benerson Little has also explored this topic, in a wonderful essay titled, Of Buccaneer Christmas, Dog as Dinner & Cigar Smoking Women. He covers some of the same ground as the podcast, and more besides.
William Dampier, who gave us so much wonderful description of the buccaneer life of the late 17th century, wrote:
“I have seen above 20 Sail at a time in this Road come to lade Salt; and these Ships coming from some of the Caribbe Islands, are always well stored with Rum, Sugar and Lime-juice to make Punch, to hearten their Men when they are at work, getting and bringing aboard the Salt, and they commonly provide the more, in hopes to meet with Privateers, who resort hither in the aforesaid Months, purposely to keep a Christmas, as they call it; being sure to meet with Liquor enough to be merry with, and are very liberal to those that treat them.”
Rum is, of course, the drink we most associate with privateers, buccaneers, pirates or whatever you choose to call the Frontier Partisans of the sea. But it seems that wine — often seized as plunder — was mighty popular. It may have been fortified stuff around 80 proof, too. Shiver me timbers! The Christmas menu was heavy on pork. Little:
Buccaneer surgeon Basil Ringrose provided the details: “This day being Christmas day, for celebration of that great festival we killed yesterday in the evening a sow. This sow we had brought from the Gulf of Nicoya, being then a sucking-pig of three weeks old, more or less, but now weighted about fourscore-and-ten pounds. With this hog’s flesh we made our Christmas dinner, being the only flesh we had eaten ever since we turned away our prizes under the equinoctial and left the island of Plata. We had this day several flaws of wind and some rain…”
Musicians were highly-valued members of any pirate crew, so you could enjoy fiddle, flute and concertina, at least until they got too drunk to play. And there was singing, of course, though a chorus of “Yo-Ho-Ho and a bottle of rum!” is heard only in Treasure Island.
We’ll just throw The Parson’s Farewell out there, because we never get tired of The Parson’s Farewell.
Whatever your Christmas may be, me hearties, I hope ye have a merry one!