Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holidays At Sea (Re-post)


A version of this post was first published on December 1, 2009.


When you consider how many traditions and superstitions mariners have about almost everything, it's surprising how few Christmas traditions there are at sea. At least one in seven people on earth are Christians, and twice that many will celebrate Christmas in one form or other. Add to that those who recognize the Jewish Hanukkah, the African Kwanzaa, and the Pagan Yule, and you have a good share of the world's people, yet holiday traditions at sea are mainly just those brought from land.

Many seafaring traditions are based in the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday, so it is bad luck to begin a sea voyage on Friday, and good luck to begin one on Sunday. It's also bad luck to begin a voyage on the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah), or December 31 (the day Judas Iscariot hanged himself). Such superstitions predate the Christians by centuries, of course; Roman seafarers believed it bad luck to cut your nails or hair on board ship (it offended Neptune), and that it was good luck to offer the gods wine by pouring onto the deck of a ship.

Three chapters of From The Bridge: Authentic Modern Sea Stories, by mariner and writer Kelly Sweeney, are devoted to the topic of the holidays at sea. In addition to recounting some of his holiday experiences on board various vessels, Sweeney looks at various gifts for the mariner. The biggest, if you are another mariner, is holiday relief:
It is no easy task locating reliefs during the holidays, because no one wants to miss the time with the family. Sailors scheduled to go back to work may avoid answering the phone, or perhaps they'll travel somewhere they can't be reached until after the New Year. Those currently onboard, who are supposed to have the holidays off, call and harass the office to find a relief so they can make it back in time for the festivities.
If you're not a mariner, but just love one, Sweeney suggests a good set of rain gear, a pocket knife, a set of channel locks for those working on tankers, a flashlight, or a laminated family photo.

Some other nautical holiday traditions:

New York's Seaman's Church Institute has run a Christmas At Sea volunteer knitting program for more than a century. Knitting groups around the country makes scarves and other items, which are distributed free of charge to seamen. For more information clickhere.

The Charleston Port and Seafarers Society delivers care packages at ships calling in Charleston during the holidays. More information here.

The Seafarers & International Home in New York has a similar program. See more here.

The Patrick O'Brian website re-creates some Christmas dishes from the Age of Sail here.

The schooner Rouse Simmons, the legendary "Christmas Tree Ship," was lost with all aboard while delivering Christmas trees to Chicago in 1912. For more see The Maritime History Of The Great Lakes website.

If you work at sea, check out Kelly Sweeney's New Years resolutions for mariners in the December 2009 issue of Professional Mariner here.

Many seaside communities have Christmas ship or boat parades, or boat lightings, like those pictured above. For info about this year's festivities, check out the following links to a port near you

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