Old Liner Custom: Throwing Streamers

Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
In the years after WW II, I remember an old custom in Australia and probably in Britain. When a liner was about to sail, the passengers used to throw long paper ribbons to their friends on the wharf and vice versa. The ribbons were in tight little rolls and were heavy enough to carry a fair way. The ribbons were held by both parties until they broke as the ship pulled out. As I recall, the ribbons were generally in pastel colours and were made of ordinary paper. Does anybody recall this custom, or have any idea of its history?

Jerry Nuovo

Jan 18, 2003
New Jersey,USA
Dave, I have seen on episodes of the TV show Love Boat the passengers aboard the Pacific Princess lining up at the ship's rail throwing paper ribbons as the ship was about to sail.But of the 10 cruises I have taken,8 of them aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 sailing out of New York since September,2000,I have never seen that and I am out on deck as the ship begins to back out of the pier in New York. Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
Oct 28, 2000

An aunt and uncle of mine did the "grand tour" of Europe in the late 1940s, sailing on both of the Queens. The custom of streamers was apparently long-established. They brought back a piece of one for me, but it has disappeared. I recall it being more like heavy crepe paper.

My impression is that this custom started during the early years of the 20th century on the North Atlantic runs. I have no proof.

-- David G. Brown
Aug 29, 2000
Dave- Streamers-what a great memory-and one I can recall as recently as 20 years ago. I asked the question of why no streamers and confetti about 15 years ago when leaving NYC on the QE2 and was told by a crewman that nobody wants to clean up the mess nowadays. The custom of tossing colorful bits in celebration goes way back to ancient Greece and Rome-only it was flower petals then! Confetti, although an Italian word, does not mean paper bits, but rather the tradition of colored bits of candy or nuts, usually sugar-coated Jordan almonds given as good luck favors at celebrations as parting favors. Confetti as we think of it was French and English and used for revels, celebrations and festivities-New Year's Eve coming to mind as the one still alive and well. Paper streamers are as ancient and far reaching into the past as Japanese origami wands with paper streamers used to give a festive air to holidays and also to wrap gifts. What was a high school dance without that crepe paper? Sort of symbolic too, the passenger ondeck tossing down that "lifeline" of paper to those on the pier, then as the last ties to the loved one broke as the ship pulled away, it was like the last goodbye. Remember those ticker tape parades in NYC for Lindburgh, the astronauts, and other celebrities? Now the machines are gone, no more of those, but I remember them into the 1960's. During Edwardian times, along with being pelted with flowers, the audience also threw paper streamers up on the stage on closing night after the last performance to mark the significant event and farewell to the cast. So many great old customs gone: the brass band on the pier, fruit baskets (the vitamin C was actually beneficial once for long voyages), champagne, huge flower baskets,waving hankies (Kleenex just aren't the same). the last call for going ashore with the gong, the trumpet call at suppertime, steamer trunks and codes of dress. Mostly all gone now. Here is a great 1900 article on customs at sea from the Antique Digest. Those were the days. http://www.oldandsold.com/articles12/going-abroad-11.shtml

B Portwig

Mar 25, 2019
south africa
the custom of paper streamers was still in vogue - i recall when i sailed on the betsy ross in 1984 - we threw toilet paper as a sign of our frustration due to her being 5 days late - x leda - images show union castle line sailings - which was the nrom


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