2017 saw three new ships added to the Emerald fleet – the Emerald Radiance, the Emerald Destiny and the Emerald Liberté – each with their own godmother and christening ceremony. Why is this tradition so revered and what is its significance?
The christening of new ships began in the distant past where Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians held ceremonies to ask the gods to protect sailors.
Today, ship christenings are still a large public event drawing privileged guests to bear witness to the illustrious celebration.
Why do we still have ship christening ceremonies?
Granted, it’s always exciting to add a ship to the fleet but is a christening needed for each and every one? A long-held maritime superstition is that a ship that wasn’t properly christened would be considered unlucky. Over time, it has become a tradition for women to perform the christening and/or be named as the godmother.
Godmothers are historically entrusted with the safe guidance of the ship and its passengers by blessing the ship, usually by breaking a bottle of Champagne across the bow. If the bottle didn’t break it was also considered a bad omen.
To this day there are tales that reinforce this superstition. One of the most notable involved a bottle that didn’t break when Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, christened the new ocean liner Queen Victoria. Its maiden voyage was spoiled by the outbreak of a ship-wide virus.
This was, however, a better outcome than the Titanic, which had no formal naming ceremony at all.
Why is Champagne used?
It’s not clear how Champagne came to be favoured. The shift to sparkling wine may have coincide with the new era of steel, or it may have come into vogue because of its association with power and elegance. Champagne, specifically, came to be seen as the aristocratic choice in the 19th century, being more popular than wine among many elite, therefore, considered the best option for ship christening. The tradition of using Champagne has remained ever since!
This tradition isn’t unique to cruise lines. It has a long history – about 4,000 years – although it wasn’t always Champagne that was broken across the bow. The Babylonians performed the first recorded boat christening in 300 BC, sacrificing an ox to appease the gods, while the Vikings allegedly marked the occasion with human sacrifice.
The ancient Greeks had a more festive take on the matter, wearing wreaths of olive branches on their heads and pouring water on the ship to bless it. They saved the wine to drink toasts to the sea god Poseidon.
Whisky, brandy and even sea water have been used as well. For instance, during Prohibition in the United States, water, juice, and cider were often used instead.
Make the break
Obviously, it’s all superstition, but to avoid the bad omens, people have come up with various ways to ensure that the bottle breaks. Scoring the bottle beforehand with a glass cutter is one common way to ensure the bottle will bust on the hull of the ship.
Each of Evergreen’s Emerald ‘Star Ships’ have been honoured with a christening ceremony so it’s happy sailing for everyone. Our ships are under the watchful eye of all our godmothers including British cultural icon Twiggy, Canadian newscaster Colleen Christie, and of course our own long serving Tour Director, Maxine Collins.