Each spring, the population of this little low-country town swells from 1,700 to 70,000 in one weekend with beauty pageants, live music, art exhibitions, boat parades, seafood feeds and party after party on both land and sea. However, Darien's annual Blessing of the Fleet has its roots in serious, even reverent business, and lest you doubt it, check out the warning to street parade participants on the Blessing's official webpage: "Rowdy behavior will not be tolerated!"
This is at heart a religious ceremony, after all.
And while the spirit is decidedly, shall we say, spirited, at the biggest party of the year in Darien, the three-day festival still revolves around a centuries-old Catholic tradition. The genesis of the custom is simple—fishing on the ocean is dangerous work, and when the fleets set out, the lives and livelihoods of families hang in the balance. Hundreds of years ago fishing communities in Southern Europe found it prudent to ask God (and maybe a favorite Saint or two) for the protection and prosperity of their fleet and fishermen. Catholic European immigrants carried the tradition to the New World, where it can now be found all along the eastern seaboard and Gulf coasts.
Commercial fishing, and shrimping in particular, represents a resurrection of sorts for Darien,
after its turn-of-the-century timber boom went bust. Established 40 years ago, Darien's Blessing of the Fleet is a multi-denominational celebration, culminating in the boat parade along the Darien River, where local spiritual leaders stand on a bridge and grant their blessings as the boast go by. With masts extending at all angles, as tall as the boats' hulls are long, the shrimping fleet bears an eerie resemblance to a gang of its prey, jointed appendages carefully probing the sky. Owners of shrimp and pleasure boats alike deck out their crafts in high style for the blessing parade with lights, garlands and fanciful themes. A wreath is always placed in the water out of respect for those who've lost their lives at sea.
Since it's all about the shrimp in Darien,
there are feasts aplenty, including a shrimp eating contest, a seafood cookoff, and community feeds all over town featuring wild Georgia shrimp (which is harder to find in local restaurants than you might imagine). There are not one but two beauty pageants for Miss Blessing and Little Miss Blessing, a juried art show, a 5K run, countless music performances, and for those with a need for speed, a "Shrimpbox Derby."
Any time of year is a fabulous time to visit this town packed with culture, nature and history,
but if you can time your visit to coincide with the Blessing of the Fleet, you'll be treated to a little neighborhood get together like none other, and more than a taste of Southern hospitality.
Find out more about Darien on the City of Darien, Georgia, Visitor Guide.