Long before the days of popping corks and marching bands, before any flag waving and all of this Mickey Mouse stuff, our ancestors dreamed up all sorts of interesting ways to launch their boats, including human sacrifice.
That's right. At one point in time people would kill to launch a big new boat. The Vikings and folks in the Pacific Islands were known to offer up human sacrifices when they launched their dragonships, longships, and war canoes. They'd rub their offering's blood on the bow of their boat before it hit the water to please the gods of the sea. Word is the Turks sacrificed a sheep and used its blood while Babylonians offered up an ox. With the rise in Christianity, human and animal sacrifices became a thing of the past. Instead of sacrificing slaves or POWs, or common barnyard animals, some ceremonies began revolving around red wine.
In jolly old England circa the 17th Century, crews began celebrating ship launches with royalty or nobles on hand and what they called a standing cup ceremony. The celebrant would take a sip from the chalice and the remaining red wine, possibly a symbol of blood, would be poured on the deck and down the bow of the boat. Afterwards, for whatever reason, this fancy cup would be tossed overboard into the ocean. Because the cup was made of precious metals, this started to become too pricey. They eventually replaced the standing cup ceremony by simply smashing a bottle of red wine across a ship's bow. I would imagine this process would be a whole lot more civilized, too. I bet a fellow could only stand for so long shivering in the cold on deck or dockside while a haughty official, with a big ornate golden chalice worth more than this poor sod's house, droned on and on and on. Imagine it. One poor officer standing there after one standing cup ceremony too many, you know he's bound to snap. "For God's sake, man! We're all freezing here! Just use the bloody bottle!"
In other parts of the world, they'd launch ships by blessing them with good old-fashioned water. For ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, pleasing the likes of Neptune and Poseidon was a must. They poured water on their boats to protect their seamen before they launched. Apparently the French launched their ships in the 18th and 19th Centuries with water as well. Word is on Wikipedia that a godfather for the new vessel would hand a godmother a bouquet of flowers and together they'd announce the ship's name while a priest at the ceremony blessed the ship with holy water, and they lived happily ever after.
Apparently US Navy records dating back to the 19th Century indicate they christened American warships with water from significant American rivers. Puja ceremonies in India involved smashing coconuts (I guess the pumpkins were booked?). In Japan, they'd craft a new axe with a silver blade for luck to apparently ward off the devil. The good luck axe would cut the ropes that tethered the ships that waited in slips that were angled on slopes that swallowed the fly that wiggled and jiggled and - whoops! A great trove of information regarding other launches HERE.
Why champagne? When did champagne enter the picture? Likely with the rise of big steel American ships. You can't watch that Disney video up above and tell me Americans don't live for show. More expensive boats meant more expensive booze. Give a Canadian a lawn chair, a bottle of pretty much anything, and we're good to go.
Thinking of picking up a boat this summer and christening her yourself? Note you can't just smack a bottle of bubbly across the bow of a recreational boat because it could do some serious damage. Important tips HERE.
Funny thing, isn't it? Guy builds a boat, next thing you know it he's building sacrificial alters, taking the day off work to worship some hairy old guy who lives on the bottom of the ocean, starts crafting fancy gold encrusted drinking cups and stocking up on fireworks (not to mention hiring the likes of a Lucas Arts or a Spielberg). Woman creates a life? She gets a washcloth on her forehead, maybe a little Tylenol, and it's back to work.
Photo source: YouTube