Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ship Christenings

Ship christenings are a tradition that dates back many centuries. The methods have changed over time, but the purpose has remained the same…to bless the vessel and bestow protection on the ship, crew, and passengers.

A thousand years ago, Vikings christened their curved-prow warships with human sacrifice and the spilling of blood before setting off to pillage and explore. This paired with the incantations of a high priest would hopefully appease the gods. Romans and Greeks performed the ritual of blessing a ship with water for purification and for invoking the protection of mighty sea gods such as Neptune or Poseidon. Moving forward into the Middle Ages, water was replaced by wine, but the purpose remained the same.

By the 1800’s the christening of ships began to follow a familiar pattern. They became public events and the tradition developed that a female would do the honors and be named the sponsor of the ship. Champagne took the place of wine as the preferred liquid of anointment, probably because of its higher perceived value. Held by the neck, a bottle would be thrown against the ship, accompanied by much pomp and pageantry. That was until the christening of a British vessel in which a woman missed the ship and injured a spectator. From that point on the bottle was usually secured to the ship and covered in a sleeve to prevent fragments of the glass bottle from flying hither and yon.

Today the christening of a cruise ship, otherwise known as its naming ceremony, is a star-studded event. Cruise ship Godmothers are carefully selected so the lines can use the occasion to promote the new ship. The choice of a cruise ship Godmother is an ideal way to associate a ship with a certain image that is conveyed by the Godmother. The choices encompass a wide cross section of women that the public can relate to.

In 2007 when NCL started looking for a Godmother for the Norwegian Gem they didn’t look any further then their loyal customers. Women 18 years of age or older that had taken a cruise on NCL were invited to nominate themselves by sending in a video that showed how she embodied the attributes of the “hot & hip” Gem, as well as the free spirit of Freestyle Cruising. Cindy Cardella, a New Jersey stay at home mom, was chosen. Other members of this elite sorority of NCL Godmothers include Rosie O’Donnell, Kim Cattrall, Brooke Burke, Melania Trump and Angela Perez Baraquio.

Past Royal Caribbean Godmothers have included Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway, Lauren Bacall, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Steffi Graff and champion wheelchair marathoner Jean Driscoll. When it was time to christen Independence of the Seas in 2008, Royal Caribbean wanted a British woman that dedicated incredible time and effort to improve the well being and future of young people under 18 years old in her community. Peers or family members nominated candidates. The winner, Elizabeth Hill, founded the Gamelea Countryside Training Trust, a charitable organization based on a farm that helps young people with learning or physical disabilities learn skills.

Just last week, Celebrity Cruise Line selected the Godmother of the Equinox. She is Nina Barough, founder of the charity Walk the Walk, which is dedicated to raising money for breast cancer research. Born in the UK, Ms. Barough is a breast cancer survivor herself. She will be naming the ship in a gala ceremony in Southampton on July 29. You may remember Celebrity Solstice Godmother Dr. Sharon L. Smith. She is a two-time cancer survivor, professor, and as biological oceanographer, a most appropriate choice.

The manner in which ships are christened has changed over the past centuries, in many ways reflecting our cultural shifts. The premise, however, still remains the same. To name and bless the vessel with the hope that such ceremony will bring good fortune and protection to all aboard as she ventures out on the high seas.

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