AFS ME 32 with a makeshift Christmas tree aboard the S.S. El Nil on December 25, 1942. This image cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.
AFS ME 32 with a makeshift Christmas tree aboard the S.S. El Nil on December 25, 1942. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives.) This image cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.

The photograph depicted above shows AFS unit ME 32 celebrating Christmas aboard the S.S. El Nil, an Egyptian ship, on their trips overseas during World War II. Behind a man who appears to be dressed as Santa Claus is a make-shift Christmas tree decorated for the holiday. Their schedule for the day (which can be found here) included dinner, high tea, and a party for King Neptune, the ancient Roman god of the sea.

The AFS ambulance drivers already stationed in the Middle East found their own way to celebrate. On Christmas Eve they received gifts from the AFS headquarters in New York City, which included a signed card and new leather wallets stamped with “American Field Service” in gold. On Christmas Day the AFS volunteers covered their ambulances with any greenery and flowers they could find in the desert. They stretched blankets over the stretchers to create tables, and AFS ambulance driver Tom Dibble made place cards for the Americans volunteers and their British cooks.  They drank punch and ate dishes created with rations they had been saving for the holiday, including margarine, chocolate, and sugar.

Although they were far from home and in the middle of the war, the AFS volunteers still found a way to celebrate their holiday spirit in 1942.

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