In Newfoundland and Labrador, December 23rd – also known as Tibb’s Eve – is an unofficial holiday that is unique to the province. Born of folklore, it turned into a big night out for St. John’s bars.
For Chris Shortall, a beloved St. Johns extrovert known for his excellent parties, Tibb’s Eve is passed from bar to house party to bar with arms outstretched to greet friends. But not in a global pandemic.
“There aren’t that many people coming home because they have to be quarantined for two weeks,” Shortall said in a recent interview. “And there are also fewer events on the way. You can’t dance in bars. Many events have migrated online.”
Tibb’s Eve is a night for friends during the family-oriented Christmas season. In Newfoundland, Labrador, where many young people move to school or work, December 23rd is a night of great reunions. Tibb’s, Shortall said, is when people who are away from home for Christmas go to the bars to catch up and say hello.
“You see people you haven’t seen in a year,” he said. “And everyone gets drunk because why not? You have three or four days to overcome your hangover and keep drinking and eating with friends and family. “
Folklorist Dale Jarvis, the proud author of what he described as “incredibly nerdy” Wikipedia entry on vacation, said Tibb’s Eve was both an ancient linguistic expression and a special event. The holiday originated on the south coast of Newfoundland sometime after World War II, he said, adding that it was a day when people could have a drink or two before Advent ended on Christmas.
The vacation is also based on a phrase about a day that would never actually happen – like the day pigs fly, Jarvis explained. “If I had promised to give you something on Tibb’s Eve, you’d know you’d never get it.”
This rendition of Tibb’s Eve – a day that would never happen – is perhaps the most relevant this year, especially for desperate social butterflies like Shortall missing out on a special evening with old friends.
For Brenda O’Reilly, owner of O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub, Tibb’s means significantly fewer customers in a pandemic. “Outside of the George Street Festival and St. Patrick’s Day, this is one of those days we can hang our hats as one of our best days of the year,” she said.
O’Reilly said she started throwing Tibb’s Eve Night at the pub over a decade ago when a friend from rural Newfoundland told her about the holiday.
O’Reilly grew up in Torbay, just outside St. John’s, and had never heard of Tibb’s Eve. But she said it sounded like fun: her friend said it was a “free pass” for husbands to have a drink after Christmas chores – or several. According to her friend, the night was called Tipsy’s Eve. Say that after a few beers and it sounds like “Tibb’s Eve,” she said.
Their pub on George Street, a narrow street in downtown St. John’s full of bars, would typically serve around 500 people for Tibb’s. However, under current public health restrictions, the dance floor is closed and it only sells tickets for table seating.
“We only have 120 people in the pub and we usually have 480,” said O’Reilly in an interview. “It’s dramatic, but we’re still doing it and it’s important to try to do as much as possible during this very stressful time.”
This Canadian press report was first published on December 23, 2020.