O'Reilly's Irish Newfoundand Pub, shown here in 2020 on George Street in downtown St. John's, is normally stuffed to the gills on Dec. 23. This year, with the dance floor shut down under public health restrictions, things will look a lot different. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sarah Smellie

Pandemic dampening ‘Tibb’s Eve,’ the unique N.L. holiday with folkloric origins

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — In Newfoundland and Labrador, Dec. 23 — also known as Tibb’s Eve — is an unofficial holiday unique to the province, born out of folklore and turned into a big night for St. John’s bars.

For Chris Shortall, a beloved St. John’s extrovert known for throwing excellent parties, Tibb’s Eve is spent dancing and laughing, going from bar to house party to bar with outstretched arms to greet friends. But not in a global pandemic.

“There’s not as many people coming home, because they have to quarantine for two weeks,” Shortall said in a recent interview. “And also there’s less events on the go. You can’t dance in bars; a lot of events have migrated online.”

Tibb’s Eve is a night set aside for friends during the family-focused Christmas season. In Newfoundland in Labrador, where many young people move away for school or work, Dec. 23 is a night of big reunions. Tibb’s, Shortall said, is when people who are home from away for Christmas head to the bars to catch up and say hello.

“You get to see people you haven’t seen in a year,” he said. “And everybody gets drunk because why not? You’ve got three or four days to get over your hangover and keep drinking and eating with friends and family.”

Folklorist Dale Jarvis, proud author of what he calls the “incredibly nerdy” Wikipedia entry on the holiday, said Tibb’s Eve is both an old linguistic expression and a special event. The holiday emerged on the south coast of Newfoundland sometime after the Second World War, he said, adding that it was a day when people could sneak a drink or two before Advent ended on Christmas.

The holiday is also based on an expression about a day that would never really occur — like the day pigs fly, Jarvis explained. “If I promised to give you something on Tibb’s Eve, you would know you would never actually get it.”

It’s this interpretation of Tibb’s Eve — a day that would never happen — that is perhaps the most pertinent this year, especially for despondent social butterflies like Shortall who are missing out on a special night out with old friends.

For Brenda O’Reilly, owner of O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub, Tibb’s in a pandemic means significantly fewer customers. “Outside of the George Street Festival and St. Patrick’s Day, this is one of those days that we can hang our hat on as one of our best days of the year,” she said.

O’Reilly said she began hosting Tibb’s Eve night at the pub over a decade ago, when a friend from rural Newfoundland told her about the holiday.

Growing up in Torbay, just outside St. John’s, O’Reilly 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 — or several — after finishing Christmas chores. From her friend’s telling, the night was called Tipsy’s Eve. Say that after a few beers and it sounds like “Tibb’s Eve,” she said.

Her pub on George Street, a narrow street in downtown St. John’s filled with bars, would normally serve about 500 people for Tibb’s. But under the current public health restrictions, the dance floor is closed and she’s only selling tickets for table seating.

“We’ll only have 120 people in the pub, and we normally hold 480,” O’Reilly said in an interview. “It’s dramatic, but we’re still doing it and it’s important to try and do as much as we can normally in this very stressful time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kris Sturgess with Calgary Ghostbusters. (Photo from GoFundMe)
GoFundMe account salutes Red Deer prop builder

Kris Sturgess died unexpectedly April 28

If you're heading out to the West Country have a plan in case things go wrong, says Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services fire chief Steve Debienne.
(Photo from CRFRS Facebook)
West Country visitors should have an emergency plan: regional fire chief

Cellphones can’t be relied on in many back country areas

Rode
Sarcevic leads an impressive list of additions to RDC Kings soccer

In 2019 the RDC Kings soccer program took a major step forward… Continue reading

The Red Deer PCN Women's Fun Run will take on a different look this weekend with rising COVID-19 numbers.
Women’s Fun Run goes ahead this weekend in Red Deer

With new public health measures in place because of rising COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw asked Albertans to limit travel throughout the province as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears 900 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports additional 2,211 COVID-19 cases

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

LtE bug
Letter: Security company can help with shelter

Why don’t we leave Safe Harbour temporary shelter where it is and… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Good job on K-6 curriculum

Many are questioning the quality of the draft K-6 curriculum. It amazes… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
COVID becomes all too real when someone you love is ‘positive’

The third wave of the pandemic is hitting us hard. It is… Continue reading

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Toronto Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (37) hits a single to drive in two runs against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductee Jayna Hefford speaks in Toronto on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson, centre, makes a shot as lead Briane Meilleur, left, and second Shannon Birchard sweep against Denmark at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, May 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

Most Read