In the military everything is formalized, tracked, and done via procedure. This is not limited to the way we eat our formal meals. I mean at lunchtime and breakfast whatever we just show up, shove food in our face, and be on our way for whatever we've been tasked out to do. But when it comes to a Mess dinner, especially at Christmas things get interesting.
Above all else you have to keep your uniform emaculate because before you go anywheres or do anything you get inspected by at least 3-4 people. Usually your section second-in-charge (2IC), section commander, troop warrant, and finally your regiment/school Sergeant Major. Each one is actually easier than the last because all the yelling and berating is done at the bottom of the pyramid. I was NEVER a good soldier when it came to this and was always told how my tunic looked liked a "wrinkled old chip bag" in broken english when I was in my regiment. I also got lots of extra duties. That's why I hated dressing up in uniform. I can remember one time where I showed up late (gigantic no-no), hid in the back till inspection was done, then blended in with the crowd where my friends told me I had a gigantic salt stain on my pants I hadn't noticed. I then spent the rest of the day purposely angling myself whenever talking to superiors with the offending leg in the back so they wouldn't see/notice like I was an illusionist of something. No one ever did notice though.
So all done up and given the ok from our bosses my first mess dinner we went to the base cafeteria where the first thing we did when entering the building is take off our berets (always take off your hat in a military mess) and begin the long process of shaking all our bossess hands. Now this doesn't seem like much but at a military school, everyone is pretty much your boss. So starting with the commanding officer and sergeant major all the way down to the guy who drives the trucks we shook hands before we got handed our two free beer to start the dinner. So in retrospect this was the conversation we had "Ok so before you start eating first shake hands with fifty people who shook fifty other peoples hands. Oh yeah, we also hid beggars change in the meal." You usually had to end the process in the bathroom cleaning your hands if you didn't want a staph infection.
So we sit down, the brass talks about how it's a good year blah blah blah. You toast the Queen because we're all technically "subjects" of here still. In order to defend her if a dragon strikes the castle I guess. Then we get served a fine turkey meal from our bosses. Why? Because it's the one day a year the bossess show respect for the people who work for them. Not that they don't through the year, but it's more of a literal action of appreciation. This is one tradition that is very lost on the civilian world. Then around the end we do more traditions like the youngest guy gets the top brasses Tunic and is technically the CO for the day and the oldest member in attendance becomes the Sergeant-Major. Any proclaimations made are carried out within reason and everyone in attendance usually cheers/jeers for the next day off. This was the case in my first dinner. I also happened to know the kid/CO from the PAT platoon and scorned him to let the lot of us have a smoke-break because we're not allowed to get up unless given permission.
More games are played like singing Christmas carols and trivia, then the party is officially left to go about the rest of their business which is usually to party at the drinking mess or go downtown. By this time I had been in PAT two months and choosed the latter. I remember walking back to my barracks where a 24 pack of budwieser awaited me and after that I ended up going downtown and getting so drunk I pissed my pants. Luckily I had changed out of uniform prior to going out.
C'est la vie en la militaire!
p.s. If you google Mess Dinners you'll see guys in bright red uniforms, this is called 'mess dress' and while not required when you get up in rank you can by the deer-skinned red uniform at an extra cost. As privates we didn't have the extra cash to afford them.