Sarah told me that Neptune Day is a traditional seafaring holiday that occurs when a boat passes through the equator. She learned of this tradition while on Semester at Sea a study abroad program in which students from different colleges take classes on a ship that travels to different countries throughout the world. When the ship crossed the equator, many passengers both male and female shaved their heads.
Although Sarah did not participate in the head-shaving activity specifically, she did participate in the ritual of having fish guts dumped on top of her head. She said that this is an initiation ritual for those that have never crossed the equator by sea before, and it is done to please King Neptune. If you havent crossed the equator and gone through the tradition, you are considered a pollywog. After the ceremony, you are considered a Shellback. Sarah didn’t remember exactly what these terms meant, but she remembers them being used.
Sarah told me that after the fish guts are dumped on your head, you must then swim through a pool filled with more fish guts and ultimately kiss a dead fish. Sarah told me that she learned this tradition from her professors on the ship, and that there was a huge celebration on Neptune Day.
Sarah thought that at one point in history, this tradition was likely taken seriously. People probably felt superstitious enough to shave their heads and kiss dead fish in order to please King Neptune. However, she didn’t really remember much of the history behind the tradition.
In Sarahs case, it seems as if the ceremonial tradition is simply like a holiday for the passengers on the boat. Its a way to teach the students about seafaring traditions while giving them a memorable, unique experience.
Furthermore, its a more informal initiation ritual. After becoming Shellbacks, the students can like they truly accomplished something. They feel as if they’ve participated in a unique, global tradition even if they don’t really believe in the superstition of pleasing King Neptune.