It’s a tradition that’s endured for 94 years, and few events are so synonymous with the Mississippi Gulf Coast.Once again, during the last week of May, Biloxi will celebrate its heritage with the Blessing of the Fleet — a weekend filled with festivities to mark the start of the shrimping and fishing season.
“The event is an old-world European custom brought to Biloxi by the early 1900s immigrants to the area,” says Laurie Quave Rosetti, City of Biloxi Downtown Services assistant, who has been on the event committee for 16 years. “In the beginnings of the event, the shrimping/fishing fleet would line up to parade in front of the ‘blessing boat’ and would receive a blessing and be doused with holy water as they passed by.”
The Blessing was once a dual event, held in the Mississippi Sound and the Back Bay simultaneously, Rosetti says, but now, it is held in the Sound exclusively. The celebration began in 1929 and has been an annual occasion ever since, which makes it the oldest festival in the City of Biloxi and the second oldest in the state, outlived only by the Neshoba County Fair. Speaking to its longevity, Rosetti says, “Biloxi is built on shrimp!”
“It is not a stretch to say that every native family of Biloxi had something to do with shrimp; either harvesting, processing, boat building, etc.,” she adds. “The roots of the event are intrinsically tied to family, church, natural resources and HOME— everything that makes Biloxi a unique place.”
During the festivities, prayers always have been lifted for a bountiful and safe season, and now, the annual blessing includes a mix of pleasure craft and working vessels. Last year’s boat participants numbered in the hundreds, and Rosetti expects it to rise again this year.
“Biloxi has endured great losses because of the many natural disasters in its distant and recent past,” she says. “In an effort to hold on to our cultural identity, generations of Biloxians have worked to keep this special event viable and relevant.”
No registration is required to participate; boaters simply line up at the west end of the Biloxi Channel, near the Beau Rivage. The blessing boat anchors just south of the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.
At 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 28, a wreath will be dropped from a helicopter in memory of all deceased fishermen, signaling the boats to begin the parade eastward toward the Blessing Boat
for a prayer from Monsignor Dominick Fullam, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church. First- and second-place cash prizes are awarded for best-decorated boats, along with a participation award.
Rosetti finds it hard to pick her favorite part of the celebration. She loves the history and traditions of the event, as well as its pageantry and aesthetic and spiritual beauty. She also enjoys the royalty, chosen each year for their ties to Biloxi’s seafood industry.
“On a personal note, some of my earliest memories are of this event,” she says. “I think what stands out is just how much it meant and still means to the fishermen themselves and their families.”
BLESSING OF THE FLEET ACTIVITIES
- Thursday, May 25, 6 p.m.: Mass of the Deceased Fishermen, St. Michael Catholic Church. Display of the Cultural & Heri- tage Board by the 2023 Shrimp Queen contestants in the Parish Life Center (open to the public, immediately following mass).
- Friday, May 26, 6 p.m.; Past Royalty Reception, St. Michael Parish Life Center (for past royalty, 2023 contestants and guests only).
- Saturday, May 27, 4 p.m.: Bless- ing of the Fleet Mass, St. Mi- chael Catholic Church (open to the public). 5:30 p.m.; Shrimp Queen Pageant and Corona- tion of the 2023 Shrimp King and Queen, Biloxi Civic Center (open to the public)
- Sunday, May 28, 2 p.m. – The 94th Annual Blessing of the Fleet, boaters line up at the west end of the Biloxi Channel, wreath drop at 2 p.m.