Working on ocean vessels is hard, dangerous work, and it’s doubly hard in the winter. But Christmas at Sea ensures mariners are remembered during the holiday season.
When you hear words like “sailor,” “seaman,” or “mariner,” do you envision “Old Man and the Sea,” “Moby Dick,” or maybe “The Perfect Storm”?
These are all romanticized and perhaps nostalgia-tinged views of the person who works on the sea. In reality, the professional mariner is not a relic of the past, but rather one of the most important parts of the global economy.
Did you know that 90% of all global imports to the United States arrive via transoceanic container ship? (I had no idea!) The fact is that for the vast majority of the world, import and export shipping is done, literally, by ship. And someone has to man these ships!
About Today’s Mariners
The Seamen Church Institute (SCI), who faithfully serves professional mariners, offers this eye-opening look at the life of a modern mariner from their website.
Mariners encounter many dangers and difficulties unique to their profession.
For mariners, working conditions remain remarkably similar to what they were when SCI was founded in 1834: piracy, limited access to shoreside services, and isolation.
The needs of the average seafarer have also evolved with the growth of maritime commerce. Today’s mariner works in a relentless environment, experiencing problems relating to 21st-century technology, economic demands, and security concerns.
What struck me most about this description was one word: isolation. Imagine that most of your life was lived on the sea. It sounds glamorous at first, but over the long haul, it can get desperately lonely.
It’s also dangerous. Yes, pirates still exist, and they can pose very real threats. So can terrorists who want to make a point by, perhaps, attacking a ship.
Throw in unpredictable oceanic weather and no real way to connect to the shoreside world (aside from radios) and you have the ingredients for what can be a truly frightening existence.
SCI and Christmas at Sea: Advocating and Caring for Mariners
Let me introduce you to SCI and Christmas at Sea, its delightful offshoot.
The SCI arose in the 1830s, when the Episcopal Church began to tend to the needs of the far-flung ranks of American merchant sailors. Often exploited by their employers, these sailors needed someone on their side.
Few of us landlubbers realize just how thickly populated the seven seas and our inland rivers are. In addition to all the U.S. Navy personnel out there, millions of Americans work on thousands of ships all over the world as merchant mariners.
When you’re in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight, it can get mighty cold. That’s why Christmas at Sea strives to help as many sailors as possible every year with items of warm clothing, knitted by volunteers from all over America.
They’ve done so since 1898, making them one of the oldest knitting charities on record. Like SCI, Christmas at Sea hails from New York City. It delivers thousands of knitted gifts to members every year, whether they’re serving on deep-sea or river ships.
In 2006, 3,500 volunteer knitters created more than 16,000 knitted items for Christmas at Sea. Which is pretty amazing. But contributions have grown steadily over the years. In 2016, contributions rose to a whopping 23,860 items!
Gift packages for Christmas at Sea also include a sewing kit, a stationery set, a magnifying lens, a pen, a mirror, and a comb.
How You Can Help Christmas at Sea
Christmas at Sea can always use more volunteer knitters. Specific information on how to join, along with a wide variety of free patterns, can be found on the Christmas at Sea page of the SCI website. You’ll find, in particular, guidelines and free patterns posted here.
You can find even more info in the Knit Before Christmas magazine archives. (Scroll down until you spot the “Knit Before Christmas Magazine” heading; this is followed by the archives.)
Christmas at Sea has specific requirements for their items, but they’re easy to follow. Use solid, tweed, or variegated yarn in unisex colors. (Definitely no pastels!) Don’t attach any pompoms, tassels, or fringe — these can prove hazardous in their work environment.
Knitters should use worsted-weight wool or wool-blend yarns for all projects except for socks. Socks, of course, require wool or wool-blend fingering-weight yarn.
For encouragement and inspiration, I also heartily recommend checking out the Christmas at Sea Facebook page.
SCI’s Christmas at Sea is a fantastic way to bring holiday joy to men and women who are in desperate need of comfort and love. Wouldn’t you love to offer warmth to the people responsible for so much of our world’s economy?