We name this article “Christenings”
WE NAME THIS ARTICLE “CHRISTENINGS”
May God bless this and all who read about this, the most important ceremony in cruising.
By Dan Askin
The christening of a cruise ship represents the climax of a series of traditions recognizing shipbuilding signposts: the steel cutting, the keel laying, the float-out. Not showing proper respect to these milestones — with help from the likes of priests, celebrities, royalty, and breast cancer survivors — is unwise. And though the libation of choice during these proceedings hasn’t always been Champagne, ship christenings are still about one thing: keeping your fingers crossed.
“At its core, the seafaring experience is the experience of the unknown,” says Dan Finamore, curator of maritime art and history at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. “I’m not so sure anyone today could put their finger on why we [christen ships]. It’s just so fully integrated into a mythology of the sea, an archetypal activity that people feel they need to do.”
A Murky Past: Blood, Water, Wine
Roman seafarers (and their Greek antecedents) felt the need to drink wine and dribble water over their ships, beseeching Neptune and Poseidon to protect them from dangers like squalls and kraken. Earlier still, writes John C. Reilly Jr., former head of the Ships History Branch at the U.S. Naval Historical Center, Babylonian seafarers slaughtered oxen after ensuring their craft were watertight.
Norsemen, some of whom never met a slave they wouldn’t gore, sacrificed thralls as part of the longboat-launching tradition of the 8th to 11th century. (You might, too, if you were dealing with Aegir, the giant, hard-partying god of the North Sea.) The Ottomans are said to have sacrificed cattle and praised Allah to commemorate ship launches. For a time, the secular minded Reformation merchants in 17th century Europe kept the proceedings deity-free, writes Reilly.
In 17th century Britain, dignitaries sipped wine from a bejeweled “standing cup” — something akin to the incorrect selection in Raiders of the Lost Ark — then ceremoniously heaved the oversized goblet overboard to signify the launch. Like wedding guests hurling themselves after a bride’s bouquet, fights sometimes erupted during the watery trash that ensued. But as the British Navy began to rapidly expand, explains wine expert Debra Meiburg on her blog, “King William III sensibly decreed that the ‘standing cup’ was too extravagant … and [stated] that a bottle of wine be used instead.”
This is an excerpt only. To read this article in its entirety, pick up the current issue of Porthole Cruise Magazine.