Good luck ceremonies have accompanied ship launchings since the first ship was launched. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all had elaborate ceremonies involving prayer, sacrifice, and christening with liquid before the ship was allowed to leave port. Our current American tradition began in 1797, with the christening of the warship, the USS Constitution with a bottle of the then most famous type of wine--Madeira.
Traditionally ships were christened by men considered important for their religious, political or social connections. But the first mention of a woman christening a ship in America was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1827. Since then it has become traditional for a woman, called the sponsor or godmother, to christen a ship.
Champagne, as the most elite of beverages, is traditionally used, but in the past many other “christening fluids” were used, including whiskey, cider, seawater and local river water. Champagne took a hit during Prohibition, with cider or grape juice being the preferred liquid, but champagne, with all its suggestions of elegance, aristocracy and success, came back into favor.
The glass used to make champagne bottles is very thick (a necessity given the enormous pressure of those bubbles inside), so breaking it is no easy feat. In fact, it is very bad luck if the bottle doesn’t break. So, if you’re ever called to christen a ship, swing hard, and if you’re simply watching from the sidelines (or even just reading this on a Thursday night), go ahead and pop open your own bottle—there’s always something to celebrate!
Have you ever witnessed the christening of a ship? Tell us about it below!
Photo Credit: Official U.S. Navy Page, USS Arlington christened by Joyce Rumsfeld