Queen Elizabeth recently did it with whiskey. Others have used brandy, sometimes water, even fruit juice. There were times in dark history when the choice was blood – of domesticated animal or unlucky human.
Royal Caribbean prefers a brighter, more effervescent, more celebratory choice. When the time comes to ceremonially name – to christen – a vessel, including the latest smart ship Anthem of the Seas, the act is blessed with Champagne.
The naming ceremony is a maritime tradition rooted somewhere in pre-recorded history. Superstition holds that to forgo it is to invite disaster. Whether this belief is taken seriously or regarded lightly, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra insurance.
In his collection of ephemera, “The Wise Book of Whys,” author Daven Hiskey asserts that “one of the earliest known references … goes all the way back about 5,000 years ago when a Babylonian stated, ‘To the gods I caused oxen to be sacrificed,’ before launching a new ship he’d made.” Some Norse seafarers, according to legend, “caused” humans to be offered up to their own gods when blessing a ship.
Like their counterparts, the ancient Greeks also invoked deity at launch time, but with drink. Unlike others, the Greeks downed wine and christened their boats with water – a more commonsense approach than the sacrifice of a perfectly good bottle of Champagne, which came later.
The religious overtones of christening started to fade away some 500 years ago with the Protestant Reformation in Europe, but the tradition of a wet blessing continued. Exactly when Champagne became the popular choice is lost to history.
Today, whether to get in on the fun or maintain the ancient maritime tradition, a bottle of some potable is broken somewhere, fore or aft or amidships, on everything from two-person fishing boats to the world’s most innovative cruise ships.
For the 2014 christening of the Royal Navy’s new flagship, Queen Elizabeth dashed a bottle of fine single-malt Scottish whisky on the hull of her namesake vessel. It was noted that the booze, Bowmore, tasted of the sea-splashed peat bogs where it is distilled.
Anthem of the Seas’ turn comes April 20, 2015. Its maritime Godmother, U.K. travel agent and singer Emma Wilby, will do the honors with a bottle of bubbly.
If prudence is part of preparations for the party, someone will remember a nifty tip from those who have gone before. A Champagne bottle is made of particularly sturdy glass to withstand internal pressure. To ensure its festive breakage during a christening, the bottle should be scored with a glasscutter.
A bottle that won’t break is bad luck, or so it is said. No point in angering the gods.