UPDATED for 2013
Hi, I'm Arwen. My son went to boot camp in December 2009. I also mentored the groups from 2010, 2011 and 2012, so I pretty much have this thing down to a science.
December bootcamp is unlike any other month, a LOT is different, and I'm here to explain what is different, and what to expect.
First, no, you will NOT get a Christmas phone call. Do not wait up, do not hang by the phone. Phone calls are earned, and it is incredibly rare for a division with less than 3 weeks of training to earn a phone call. Your recruit's RDC may even "promise" your recruits a call, but it's an empty promise. Usually they attach it to an impossible task, but the recruits don't hear that part. They may write home and tell you they will get a Christmas call, but don't be fooled. In 2010 and 2011, many recruits wrote home that they might call, and none did. In 2012, due to the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, many recruits were allowed to call home on or around Christmas, but it was a rare situation.
There is a slight possibility of a New Year phone call for some of those who arrive in the first week.
There are NO special provisions for the holidays, except a late start to the day. They get to sleep in an hour, have the morning off to study, write letters, and "relax." If it is a religious holiday recruits are given the opportunity to use the morning hours to attend church services at the base chapel.
Recruits get three "guaranteed" phone calls, the "I'm here" call the night they arrive, the "I'm still alive" call - which comes at the end of their third week of training, and the "I'm a sailor" call, which comes after Battlestations 21. A few recruits may miss this call because they are on watch, or are at medical or another appointment. Sometimes RDCs let those recruits make an individual call to make up for it - and sometimes they do not. The third week phone call will come 4-5 weeks after they arrive, and the timing is measured from the date they begin training, not their arrival at boot camp. Occasionally individual recruits earn an earlier call for excellence in an early inspection, but not usually more than 2-3 recruits per division. They can begin earning division "reward" phone calls after week 4.
Once the division is formed (which can take from one hour to five days) the recruits begin "processing days" or "P-days" which do not count toward their 8 weeks, and are not counted on weekends. For most recruits there are 5 days, (days P-1 through P-5), but December recruits can have 10 or more P-days. P-days also have specific tasks, such as being measured for uniforms, getting health exams, vaccinations, and dental checkups, and taking an exam that, if they pass both written and physical portions of the exam, get them a promotion to E-2 at the end of boot camp.
Mail can be slow because of the holidays, but that's not the only reason. You will start getting mail from your recruit long before s/he gets mail from you. Their first few letters will beg you to send mail and ask why you aren't writing. It can be heartbreaking. They won't get mail from you right away even if you overnight it the day you get the address. Until they begin formal training they will be in temporary barracks and sometimes change barracks nightly. In order to get mail, they must first be in a permanently assigned barracks, AND they have to assign a recruit to be the "mail petty officer." Then s/he must complete a USPS mail handling class. So, while they can mail letters when the division goes to the base store for supplies, they can't *get* mail.
Also, if they change divisions during processing, that will delay their mail even longer, so your recruit may not get mail you sent, even if the other recruits are getting mail.
Recruiting offices, MEPS and the processing units close on the Friday the week before Christmas, and don't open again until after the New Year. They do not send new sailors to boot camp during this time. Based on past years, I expect the Navy to declare the MEPS closure dates to be Dec. 23 through Jan. 4.
To make up for two weeks of no new recruits, they usually send two to three times as many recruits as usual and "hold" most of them to fill new divisions for the next two weeks. Where do they get all these recruits? They are the recruits who are assigned to report during those two weeks. They are all sent early. If you haven't already received notice that your recruit is leaving earlier than scheduled, you will soon.
The final recruits to arrive for training in the week of Dec. 15-16-17 will probably be stuck in processing for two weeks. The Navy starts a new training group (6-15 divisions) every week, even weeks when none arrive, so they have to "save you" some recruits for these groups. My son arrived on December 16, but didn't start training until Dec 28.
As I said earlier, processing days do NOT count toward their official training days. Nor do weekends or holidays.
They also lose a lot of training days. Day 1-1 means "Week 1 Day 1" and Day 6-3 means "Week 6 Day 3." Each training day has a specified activity. Firefighting is on a certain day of training, so is weapons qualifications and division pictures. This helps the Navy keep from having too many divisions trying to do one activity on a single day. Divisions cannot "skip forward" because there are likely other divisions still using the training room or equipment needed.
Typically there are two to four divisions on each training day. Div 001 -003 starts day 1-1 on Monday, then Div 004-006 begins day 1-1 on Tuesday, etc. They try to divide the divisions evenly through the week, so it is a very small training group, there might only be two divisions per day, for three days. If there are an odd number, the performance (900) division is often left alone on a training day.
You may ask, if holidays aren't counted toward training, and they only get a half-day off for holidays, what are they doing that other half-day? Probably practicing their marching, or having uniform or locker inspections, or doing PT. You would not believe how much time is spent on practicing making and unmaking a bed (The Navy Way™) . And ironing lessons. And clothes folding lessons. Not all training is scheduled classroom work.
No, recruits can NOT receive holiday gifts or care packages - unless you want to send a gift card, which they can't use until after graduation. Have your holiday celebration BEFORE they leave, or after PIR. You can send a greeting card, but make the envelope plain white and no musical cards. Some RDCs will harass sailors who get mail that "stands out." RDCs want to be home with their families for Christmas, not babysitting 80+ fresh recruits, so they may have a pretty bad attitude toward recruits at this time.
In 2010 there was a recruit whose grandmother insisted that holiday gifts are okay, that her brother said he could get them (back during the Vietnam War), therefore it is okay. "It's only a box of cookies." When they arrived, the RDCs made him sit in front of the entire division. They did eight-counts until he finished eating the entire box of cookies.
Why are they so strict with recruits during the holidays? Because they're trying to get them to understand that once they get into the fleet, if their ship is out to sea on Christmas, Easter, or their birthday, there isn't going to be any special treatment of that day. No one gets calls home, no one gets a day off. Boot camp is supposed to replicate those conditions, so recruits have an idea of what it will be like once they hit the fleet.
Of course, the question everyone wants to know is, "When will my recruit PIR?" The answer is that no one really knows until the form letter arrives, or RTC announces it. Those who have been through the system before can make educated guesses, but the people in charge keep changing up the "rules," and in three years have used three different determinations of PIR dates. Sometimes the recruiters can get the information from their computers, but if your recruit is one of the late arrivals, the recruiters are already out of the office for holiday standdown and aren't available to get the information for you.