Parting rituals

Parting rituals

Afscheid van Ellis Island

Saying goodbye can be done in all kinds of places and all kinds of ways. At the front door or at the station, for example. With a kiss or a long embrace. Or maybe just by waving. But how did emigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries say goodbye to loved ones they might never see again?


In many parts of the world, it was tradition for passengers boarding steamships to be given a streamer, a long, rolled-up paper ribbon. They threw the roll from the ship to their loved ones on the quay. The person leaving held one end, and the person on the dock the other. This way, you could ‘hold on’ to each other for as long as possible. As the ship sailed out, the ribbons became taut, until they finally tore.

'Het Wilhelmus'

The departure hall of the Holland America Line was located on the Wilhelminakade in Rotterdam. This was where people said goodbye forever before travelling to the other side of the world. At the very last moment before the ship left the quay, the HAL orchestra played ‘het Wilhelmus’, the Dutch national anthem. For many emigrants this was the last time they would hear ‘their’ national anthem on Dutch soil.

Night wakes

Irish families and Dutch Protestants, among others, organised wakes for their relatives who were emigrating. During the night, prayers were said and the family reflected on what they had been through together.