Tibb's Eve

Last updated
Tibb's Eve
Observed by Newfoundlanders
SignificanceBeginning of the Christmas season
ObservancesDrinking and merriment
Date 23 December
Next time23 December 2020 (2020-12-23)
Related to Christmas Eve, Christmas, Advent

Tibb's Eve refers to both a folk expression for a day which will never arrive, as well as a celebration held on December 23 originating in Newfoundland and Labrador. [1]


Origin of the phrase

The term St. Tibb (or Tib) is attributed a character appearing in 17th-century English plays. The character portrays a loose-moraled woman and was used for comic relief. The word was also used to describe a "wanton" as in epigrammist Richard Turner's “Nosce Te (Humours)" written in 1607:

"They wondred much at Tom, but at Tib more,

"Faith (quoth the vicker) 'tis an exlent whore." [2]

Folklorist Philip Hiscock notes:

In jokes and plays four centuries ago, Tib often referred to a girl with loose morals, so there was no Saint Tib and therefore no Tib's Eve. To say something would happen on Tib's Eve was to say it would never happen. [3]

Tibb's Eve was a "non-time"; if something was said to happen on Tibb's Eve, it was unlikely it would ever happen. This is illustrated in a 1902 editorial:

The other day I was conversing with a man about a prospective event. “Yes,” said he, “it will be on Tib’s Eve, neither before nor after Christmas,” expressing thus his incredulity as to the function ever coming off. [4]

Similar phrases exist like "the twelfth of never", February 30th or "when two Mondays fall together," however Tibb's Eve has become associated with the Christmas season. [5]

There are several records of this phrase in use in the Ulster dialect of Northern Ireland. In 1903 it was recorded with unknown origins and meaning "a day that would never come." [6] In 1904, the phrase was included on a list of words in the Ulster dialect used in the Midland and Northwestern Counties as "a festival not to be found in the Calendar. Used as an evasion, as it is said to occur neither before nor after Christmas." [7]

The expression "Saint Tibb's Eve" is recorded in Cornwall, also meaning "a day which never comes." [8]

There is one saint whose name is familiar to all in Cornwall, but whose sex is unknown. This saint has much to answer for; promises made, but never intended to be kept, are all to be fulfilled on next St. Tibb's eve, a day that some folks say " falls between the old and new year"; others describe it as one that comes "neither before nor after Christmas." [9]

The phrase appears to have traveled across the Atlantic with immigrants to Newfoundland and Labrador. Story [10] refers to Tibb's Eve "generally 'neither before nor after Christmas,' i.e. never" as an Anglo-Irish Term in Newfoundland English dialect. The use continued in the province for a time:

Tibb’s Eve was traditionally used in Newfoundland vernacular as a unspecified date that didn’t exist. If you asked someone when they were going to pay you back the money they owed you they might answer “On Tibb’s Eve” meaning that you probably won’t see that money again. [11]

As a holiday

The use of Tibb's Eve, Tip's Eve, Tipp's Eve, or Tipsy Eve are regional variations used throughout Newfoundland and Labrador to describe the same celebration.

Eventually, proverbial explanations arose as to when this non-existent Tibs Eve was: "Neither before nor after Christmas" was one. "Between the old year and the new" was another. Thus, the day became associated with the Christmas season. [3]

Sometime around World War II, people along the south coast of Newfoundland began to associate Dec. 23 with the phrase ‘Tibb’s Eve’ and deemed it the first night during Advent when it was appropriate to have a drink. Advent was a sober, religious time of year and traditionally people would not drink alcohol until Christmas Day at the earliest. Tibb's Eve emerged as an excuse to imbibe two days earlier. [5]

For some people, Tib's Eve is the beginning of the Christmas season. Observed on December 23rd and sometimes called Tip's Eve or Tipsy Eve, it's one of several extensions of the holidays. For many Newfoundlanders, this day is the official opening of Christmas, the first chance to drink the Christmas stash. The date of Tib's Eve is only known in Newfoundland. [3]

The tradition of celebrating Tibb's Eve may be similar to 19th century workers taking Saint Monday off from work. [5]

Expatriate Newfoundlanders have spread the tradition to other parts of Canada, such as Halifax, Nova Scotia. [12] In 2019, comedian Colin Hollett described the holiday this way for a Halifax newspaper:

Tibb’s Eve on December 23, when people drink and eat at kitchen parties and bars with all the people they want to celebrate with before spending time with those they have to. I have no idea how that isn’t huge everywhere else. [13]

Pseudo Etymology

Tibb's Eve is sometimes referred to as Tipp's Eve, Tip's Eve, or Tipsy Eve. A popular contemporary legend or folk etymology maintains that these names are attributed to the word tipple , which is a verb meaning to drink intoxicating liquor, especially habitually or to some excess. For example,

The more contemporary explanation of St. Tibb’s comes from the association of the day with a Christmas tipple.  In the 1500’s if you were to go out for a drink you went to a “tipple” or alehouse and were served by a “tippler” the alehouse keeper.  In Newfoundland – St. Tibb’s became – the first real occasion to taste the home brew, a day where the men would visit each other’s homes for a taste. [14]

This use is reinforced with examples from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Christopher Perry of Daniel's Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador says:

I've always assumed that the name Tipsey Eve originated from this custom of the men going from house to house on the afternoon of December 23rd to test or taste each other's brew. Whether it did or not, when they returned home in the late evening or at night they were usually quite tipsey... [15]

Edie Smith from Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador explains where she believes the name comes from:

Christmas really starts in my home on Tipps Eve which is the day before Christmas. I have heard that it is called Tipps Eve because when men used to put up their own homebrew etc. they wouldn't drink it before Christmas but I guess most men would sneak a drink or two on this day because they felt the Christmas was close and they probably got a bit tipsy thus Tipps Eve. [16]

It is likely that the name originated from the use of Tibb's Eve as neither before nor after Christmas, and through folk etymology and pronunciation shift, the phrase became linked with the concept of tipsy or tipple. As William Kirwin says,

Folk etymology, strictly speaking, should be a re-formation of a strangely pronounced or spelled form with the result that the new term makes plausible sense. A second stage in the process may be an expressed justification or explanation of the new term, when it is first used or by other commentators at a later time. [17]

Hiscock notes,

For someone who thinks of it as a day to get tipsy, then Tipsy Eve is perfect. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a good way of calling it. And, of course, it’s all based in the kind of humour that people have had for hundreds of years. So, there’s no reason why people should not make humourous adjustments to it in the present. [5]

Related Research Articles

Hiberno-English or Irish English is the set of English dialects natively written and spoken within the island of Ireland.

Hogmanay Scots celebration on New Years Eve

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year's Day or, in some cases, 2 January—a Scottish bank holiday.

Newfoundland English is any of several accents and dialects of Atlantic Canadian English found in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of these differ substantially from the English commonly spoken elsewhere in Canada and North America. Many Newfoundland dialects are influenced by the West Country dialects of the West Country in England particularly the city of Bristol and counties Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, while others are influenced by dialects of Ireland's southeast, particularly Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork. Still others blend elements of both and there is also a Scottish influence on the dialects – while the Scottish came in smaller numbers than the English and Irish, they had a large influence on Newfoundland society. One estimate claims 80 to 85 percent of Newfoundland's English heritage came from the southwest of the country.

Newfoundland and Labrador Province of Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it is composed of the island of Newfoundland and the continental region of Labrador to the northwest, with a combined area of 405,212 square kilometres (156,500 sq mi). In 2018, the province's population was estimated at 525,073. About 92% of the province's population lives on the island of Newfoundland, of whom more than half live on the Avalon Peninsula.

The is a grammatical article in English, denoting persons or things already mentioned, under discussion, implied or otherwise presumed familiar to listeners, readers or speakers. It is the definite article in English. The is the most commonly used word in the English language; studies and analyses of texts have found it to account for seven percent of all printed English-language words. It is derived from gendered articles in Old English which combined in Middle English and now has a single form used with pronouns of either gender. The word can be used with both singular and plural nouns and with a noun that starts with any letter. This is different from many other languages which have different forms of the definite article for different genders or numbers.

"Finnegan's Wake" is an Irish-American comic ballad, first published in New York in 1864. The song was a staple of the Irish folk-music group the Dubliners, who played it on many occasions and included it on several albums, and is especially well known to fans of the Clancy Brothers, who have performed and recorded it with Tommy Makem. The song has more recently been recorded by Irish-American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys. The song is also a staple in the repertoire of Irish folk band the High Kings, as well as Darby O'Gill, whose version incorporates and encourages audience participation.

Ziemassvētki Annual festival in Latvia

Ziemassvētki, also Ziemsvētki is an annual festival in Latvia which observes the winter solstice and birth of Jesus Christ. Latvians around the world celebrate it from 24 to 26 December. 24 December is Ziemassvētku vakars(Christmas Eve, lit. Christmas Evening), 25 December is Pirmie Ziemassvētki, while 26 December is Otrie Ziemassvētki. Christianity traditionally celebrates the birthday of Jesus Christ on 25 December, according to the Julian calendar, but Orthodox churches follow the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar and, as a result, the majority of Orthodox churches celebrate Ziemassvētki on 6, 7 and 8 January.

<i>Dinner for One</i> 1963 sketch comedy by Heinz Dunkhase

Dinner for One, also known as The 90th Birthday, is a two-hander comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre. The German TV station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) recorded it in 1963, in the original English, with a short introduction in German. It is an 18-minute black-and-white videotape recording, performed by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden. It has become a tradition to watch it on New Year's Eve in Germany, and, as of 1995, was the most frequently repeated television programme ever.

Auld Lang Syne Robert Burns poem set to traditional melody

"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions. The international Scouting movement in many countries uses it to close jamborees and other functions.

Newfoundland and Labrador is an Atlantic Canadian province with a folk musical heritage based on the Irish, English and Cornish traditions that were brought to its shores centuries ago. Though similar in its Celtic influence to neighbouring Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador music is more Irish than Scottish and has more elements imported from English and Cornish music than those provinces.

Turnip can refer to three vegetables, which are described under the articles Turnip, Rutabaga, and Jicama. The confusion results from the following regional differences of usage.

Sheila NaGeira, Sheila Mageila, Sheila Na Geira Pike, or Princess Sheila is a legendary 17th-century Irish noblewoman regarded in Carbonear, Newfoundland as an ancestor of the locally prominent Pike family.

Ugly stick Homemade instrument made from everyday items

The ugly stick is a traditional Newfoundland musical instrument fashioned out of household and tool shed items, typically a mop handle with bottle caps, tin cans, small bells and other noise makers. The instrument is played with a drum stick or notched stick and has a distinctive sound.

Tom Bawcocks Eve

Tom Bawcock's Eve is an annual festival, held on 23 December, in Mousehole, Cornwall, England.

The Irish Descendants are a folk group from the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. All the members, born of Irish emigrants, were workers in the Newfoundland fishing industry before forming the band in 1990 out of the remnants of two former Newfoundland bands – The Descendants and Irish Coffee. The group helped to popularise traditional Newfoundland music to a wider Canadian audience in the early 1990s, along with other bands such as Great Big Sea. Their popularity within the province itself led to their selection as the official band of the province's 500th anniversary celebrations, during which they performed for the Queen. Tension within the group caused co-frontman D'Arcy Broderick to leave soon after this period, and their lineup has frequently changed since then, with frontman Con O'Brien being the only constant member. Regular touring and occasional album releases, most recently Southern Shore in 2007, have kept the group in the public eye.


Franco-Newfoundlanders, also known as Franco-Terreneuvians in English or Franco-Terreneuviens in French, are francophone and/or French Canadian residents of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The name Franco-Terreneuvian derives from Terre-Neuve, the French name of Newfoundland.

Gazeebow Unit is a rap group from Newfoundland, Canada, founded by a group of teenagers in the provincial capital of St. John's. Gazeebow Unit uses a home computer to develop their music; they integrate samples and downloaded drum loops. The group was noted for its combination of the rap music styles with depictions of working-class Newfoundland culture and the use of the Newfoundland English dialect.

In English folklore, the Apple Tree Man is the name given to the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside. Tales about the Apple Tree Man were collected by the folklorist Ruth Tongue in the cider producing county of Somerset. In one story a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard on Christmas Eve. He is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried gold, more than enough to pay his rent. In another tale a farm cat was curious to explore some fields that people avoided working because they were haunted by ghosts and witches. She set out one day and got as far as the orchard when the Apple Tree Man cautioned her to go back home, because folks were coming to pour cider for his roots and shoot guns to drive away the witches. He persuaded her not to go wandering around at night until St. Tibb's Eve, and she never did because she didn't know when St. Tibb's Eve is, nor did anyone else know.

Mummers play Seasonal folk play

Mummers' plays are folk plays performed by troupes of amateur actors, traditionally all male, known as mummers or guisers. It refers particularly to a play in which a number of characters are called on stage, two of whom engage in a combat, the loser being revived by a doctor character. This play is sometimes found associated with a sword dance though both also exist in Britain independently.


  1. "Custom". Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website. Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  2. Shakespeare, William (1802). The Plays of William Shakspeare. Printed and fold by J.J. Tourneisen.
  3. 1 2 3 Hiscock, Philip (December 2002). "More than Mummers: The Folklore of Newfoundland Christmas". The Newfoundland Quarterly. 95 (1): 11.
  4. Page, John T. (1902). "Tib's Eve". Notes and Queries. Volume s9-IX, Issue 215 (215): 109. doi:10.1093/nq/s9-IX.215.109a.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Herridge, Paul (December 22, 2009). "The Origins of Tibbs Eve". The Southern Gazette. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
  6. "Ireland: Sayings, Proverbs, and Humours of Ulster". The British Medical Journal. 2 (2241): 1548. 12 Dec 1903. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.2241.1548. JSTOR   20278746. S2CID   220214250.
  7. Marshall, John J. (1904). "The Dialect of Ulster". Ulster Journal of Archaeology. 10 (3): 129 via JSTOR.
  8. Wright, Joseph (1898). The English dialect dictionary, being the complete vocabulary of all dialect words still in use, or known to have been in use during the last two hundred years. Volume V (R-S). London: H. Frowde. p. 204.
  9. Courtney, M. A. (1886). "Cornish Feasts and "Feasten" Customs". The Folk-Lore Journal. 4 (2): 109–132. doi:10.1080/17442524.1886.10602808. ISSN   1744-2524. JSTOR   1252533.
  10. Story, George (1967). "Dialects of Newfoundland". In Smallwood, Joseph Roberts; Thoms, James R. (eds.). The Book of Newfoundland. 3. St. John's: Newfoundland Book Publishers (1967), Ltd. p. 559.
  11. "Tibb's Eve a Uniquely Newfoundland Way to Start the Holidays". VOCM.com. 23 December 2019. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  12. Kansas, Jane (23 January 2020). "Fare thee well, Newfoundland Store". The Coast. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  13. Ericsson, Sara (16 November 2019). "Best Kind comics talk Christmas tradition, and getting smashed". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  14. Dohey, Larry (22 Dec 2017). "ARCHIVAL MOMENTS: Tippling on Tibb's Eve". The Telegram. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  15. Perry, Christopher (1971). "Tipsey Eve". Dictionary of Newfoundland English Word Form Database. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  16. Smith, Edie (1971). "Tipps Eve". Dictionary of Newfoundland English Word Form Database. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  17. Kirwin, William (1985). "Folk Etymology: Remarks on Linguistic Problem Solving and who does it". Lore and Language. 04 (2): 21–22.