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As weather gets colder and Holidays jingles make their seasonal return to the air waves, it is hard around here to escape the traditions that are brought back to life every year with the Christmas season. Before the first snow falls, plans are already in motion for the brightly lit outdoor display, the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, the plum pudding or log cake, and of course, the decorated Christmas tree with its wrapped presents at its foot. These are all well-known traditions, even for those who do not subscribe to them.

In the Canadian military, other Holiday traditions have been created over time, and one that is particularly well received by the junior members of the Forces is the Commander-for-the-day role reversal that usually takes place during the Junior Ranks Christmas Dinner. It is the one time of the year when officers and senior personnel put on an apron (and often a party hat!) and serve to the junior ranks a scrumptious meal in a festive atmosphere. They not only serve, but plan, coordinate and deal with everything, all the way to washing dishes.

Perhaps the more peculiar aspect of this role reversal is the appointment of the Commander-for-the-day, usually the youngest member of the unit. More recently, some units have extended the role reversal to the unit chief warrant officer or regimental sergeant-major, trading place with the oldest member of the junior ranks. In either case, the role reversal involves trading tunics, often with some interesting, if not hilarious results.

Retired RCAF photographer Wanda Beaudoin of Coldwater, recalls trading tunics with the Commanding Officer in Ottawa back in 1975 when she was Private Beaudoin: "I was working at the Canadian Forces Photographic Unit at CFB Rockcliffe at the time and I remember the senior staff being pleased that one of the youngest members was coming from their organization. I was seated at the head table and ceremoniously carved the turkey. It was a great day for me and one I enjoyed sharing with my parents later in the day." She went on to serve for a 41 year career with the RCAF.

Indeed, the traditions of senior personnel serving dinner to junior ranks and the appointment of the youngest member as Commander-for-the-day, go back a long way in the military. In the days when warfare involved long periods of waiting and watching, this kind of symbolic gestures was meant to improve the troops’ morale, especially at Christmas time. Today, this simple act of serving dinner once a year gives an opportunity to officers and senior personnel to demonstrate their appreciation to the troops for their continued outstanding work and dedication.

As Commander-for-the-day, then Private Wanda Beaudoin of Coldwater (right) is served by a senior officer during the 1975 Junior Ranks Christmas Dinner in Ottawa.

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