Mercy Ships at Christmas

Mercy Ships at Christmas

The UK crew onboard the Africa Mercy this December

Imagine swapping your own Christmas homely traditions and celebrating onboard a hospital ship, with a global family and all their traditions, too. That’s the reality for many volunteers currently serving for Mercy Ships on the world’s largest charitable hospital ships – the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy – this festive season.

Despite being far from their loved ones, the Mercy Ships crew create an unforgettable Christmas where truly global traditions flourish. All year round, thousands of people from hundreds of professional backgrounds and over 40 nations crew these ships, saving and transforming lives throughout Central and West Africa.

Right now, everyone from cleaners to cooks, engineers to electricians, teachers to technicians, plumbers to paediatricians are giving their time freely to ensure both ships are set to transform the lives of those in some of the world’s poorest countries, who desperately need urgent medical care in 2022 — and beyond.

Christmas Past and Christmas Present

We look at Christmas past and Christmas present and hear from crew who have experienced what it is like to be onboard in the festive season. Although the Global Mercy – as the newest in the fleet – will be having its first festive season with serving crew this year, the Africa Mercy has many established traditions.

Patricia, Tony and Elliot Royston on the dock in front of the Africa Mercy

Esteemed veteran Patricia Royston and her husband Tony, from near Bedford, have spent an impressive 10 Christmases onboard the Africa Mercy and even brought up their son Elliot onboard from the ages of seven to 18.

Tony volunteered as a biomedical engineer while Patricia held various roles from hospital liaison, advocate, to teacher and chaplain. During those years, the family embraced all the global traditions around the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

“I absolutely loved Christmas onboard the ship. I think it brought together all the nationalities in such a special way. There were lots of different events and traditions from every country and we all celebrated each other’s,” Patricia said.

One of her favourites was a French tradition where everyone left shoes outside their cabin doors on Christmas eve. The next morning, they would be brimming with little gifts from fellow shipmates.

“People from all around the ship would be scurrying around, filling them with treats. Elliot loved growing up on the ship! He would go back in a moment.”

Carey Anne Dooley hanging Christmas decorations

Teacher, Carey Anne Dooley, from Reading who is currently serving onboard the Africa Mercy, has been busy helping the whole crew get the ship ready for the festive season and said it has a unique feel as she finishes her school term in the onboard academy.

She said, “We all decorated together and there was such a community feel – everyone was so excited. It was chaotic but so good! There are decorations from all over: Africa, New Zealand, Australia, everywhere! It looks really magical – there’s so many trees right now and the decorations look amazing.”

Georgia Ainsworth on a home visit

Georgia Ainsworth from Cardiff served onboard the Africa Mercy as a writer, with her husband Peter Ainsworth volunteering as a mechanic, and experienced life onboard over two Christmases in 2017 and 2018.

She said, “Christmas on the Africa Mercy is a great privilege. You miss your family, but the ship community becomes your family. Christmases onboard were some of the most memorable and special years of my life and we’ve even taken some traditions and brought them back home with us!”

Familiar staples such as Christmas trees and fairy lights adorn every deck, but the international elements brought a new sparkle for Georgia who said it was a “wonderful pick and mix of festive traditions from around the world.”

The Scandinavians bring a beautiful ceremony of light celebrating Saint Lucia; Sinterklaas visits the children, thanks to the Dutch onboard, and there is a Christmas play performed by the children in the onboard school.

Georgia said, “There’s a beautiful tradition onboard whereby the Australians host a ‘carols by candlelight’ service on the dock. We all get given a tealight in a cup and patients who are well and able down in the hospital come up and join us. Patients and crew sing carols side by side and it’s a really special moment.”

She added, “You’re all in the same boat, quite literally, being away from friends and family during a season that emphasises the importance of them. Even the patients are away from home. But we all come together and there’s just such a sense of warmth and comfort during December that you almost forget where you are.

“You try to soak it all up because you that know how unique an experience it is to celebrate like this, with people from all over the globe, serving voluntarily for the same purpose.”


Mercy Ships UK Crew Support Manager Hannah Mulvihill said: “We are so grateful to the incredible volunteers who have worked so hard in ever-changing conditions and circumstances in recent times, including this Christmas period.

“We want to say thank you to everyone for their selfless acts in ensuring Mercy Ships continues to transform lives and leaves a legacy of improvement in each country it serves.

“2022 is set to be an exciting year as we double the impact of Mercy Ships delivering healthcare services to the countries that need it most and for that, we need double the volunteers to crew our two-ship fleet. Their commitment saves lives, and we cannot thank them enough for all they do.”

If you want to be part of a global team that transform lives, visit