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 2021 (2021-12-23)
Related toChristmas 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 23 December originating in Newfoundland and Labrador. [1]


Origin of the phrase

Saint Tibb (or Tib) is a character appearing in 17th-century English plays. The character is 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 [3] 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.

Tibb's Eve was a "non-time"; if something was said to happen on Tibb's Eve, it was unlikely it would ever happen. It appears circa 1785 in "A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue" thusly: "Saint Tibb's Evening, the evening of the last day, or day of Judgement; he will pay you on St. Tibb's Eve, (Irish)." [4] This usage, seen in English newspapers in the 1830s [5] [6] and American newspapers of the 1840s, [7] is illustrated in this 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. [8]

Similar phrases exist, such as 30 February, "the twelfth of never", and "when two Mondays fall together"; however, Tibb's Eve has become associated with the Christmas season. [9]

There are several records of this phrase in use in the Ulster dialect of Northern Ireland. [10] In 1903 it was recorded with unknown origins and meaning "a day that would never come". [11] 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." [12]

The expression "Saint Tibb's Eve" is recorded in Cornwall, also meaning "a day which never comes". [13]

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". [14]

The phrase traveled to Newfoundland and Labrador. George Story [15] describes Tibb's Eve as "generally 'neither before nor after Christmas', i.e. never" as an Anglo-Irish term in Newfoundland English dialect. Writing in a St. John's newspaper in 1921, then acting mayor JJ Mullaly used the phrase in this way, noting, "...you and the Mayor might be writing till Tibb's Eve without result." [16] This use continued in the province at least into the 1970s:

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. [17]

As a holiday

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 23 December 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. [9]

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. [9]

Evolution and Commercialization

An outport tradition not originally celebrated in St. John's, Tibb's Eve was adopted circa 2010 by local bar owners, who saw it as a business opportunity. [18] Brewery taproom owners have suggested that hosting Tibb's Eve events allow them to open up "Newfoundland experiences to outsiders." [19]

The informal holiday has been also used for fundraising efforts, including the "Shine Your Light on Tibb’s Eve" fundraiser for the St. John's Women's Centre, first organized circa 2009 in St. John's, [20] and Tibb's Eve charity drives organized by the Masons in Grand Bank, NL. [21] [22]

Since then, social media and expatriate Newfoundlanders have spread the tradition to other parts of Canada, such as Halifax, Nova Scotia [23] and Toronto, Ontario. [24] In 2014, Grande Prairie Golf and Country Club in Alberta hosted a Newfoundland-themed Tibb's Eve event, in support of local charities. [25] In 2016, Folly Brewpub in Toronto brewed its own "Tibb's Eve" spiced ale. [26] 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. [27]


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 1500s, 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. [28]

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... [29]

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. [30]

From the use of Tibb's Eve as meaning neither before nor after Christmas, [3] 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. [31]

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 humorous adjustments to it in the present. [9]

Related Research Articles

Hogmanay Scots celebration on New Years Eve

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the old 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 a term referring to 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 dialects of England's West Country, in particular the city of Bristol and the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, while in terms of general cultural heritage, one estimate claims 80 to 85 percent of Newfoundland's English heritage came from England's southwest. Other Newfoundland dialects are influenced by the dialects of Ireland's southeastern counties, particularly Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork. Still others blend elements of both and there is also a discernible influence of Scottish English. This reflects the fact that while the Scottish came in smaller numbers than the English and Irish, they had a large influence on Newfoundland society.

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.

Mulled wine Heated red wine with spices

Mulled wine, also known as spiced wine, is a beverage usually made with red wine along with various mulling spices and sometimes raisins. It is served hot or warm and is alcoholic, although there are non-alcoholic versions of it. It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas. It is served at Christmas markets in Europe.

Saint Stephen's Day, also called the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a Christian saint's day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr or protomartyr, celebrated on 26 December in Western Christianity and 27 December in Eastern Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox churches that adhere to the Julian calendar mark Saint Stephen's Day on 27 December according to that calendar, which places it on 9 January of the Gregorian calendar used in secular contexts. In Latin Christian denominations, Saint Stephen's Day marks the second day of Christmastide.

Midsummer is the period of time in the middle of the summer. The exact dates vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice. The celebration predates Christianity, and has existed under different names and traditions around the world.

<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. After featuring on the stage, the German TV broadcaster, Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) recorded the sketch in 1962 as an 18-minute black-and-white videotape recording, performed by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden.

Saint Johns Eve

Saint John's Eve, starting at sunset on 23 June, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke states that John was born six months before Jesus; therefore, the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on 24 June, six months before Christmas according to the old Roman calculation. This feast day is one of the very few saints' days which commemorates the anniversary of the birth, rather than the death, of the saint being honored.

Observance of Christmas by country Overview of Christmas traditions

The observance of Christmas around the world varies by country. The day of Christmas, and in some cases the day before and the day after, are recognized by many national governments and cultures worldwide, including in areas where Christianity is a minority religion. In some non-Christian areas, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration ; in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday.

Ugly stick

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.

Christmas and holiday season Period covering Christmas and other holidays

The Christmas season, also called the holiday season, or the festive season, is an annually recurring period recognized in many Western and other countries that is generally considered to run from late November to early January.

Christmas in Ireland Overview of the role of Christmas in Ireland

Christmas in Ireland traditionally begins on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, with many putting up their decorations and Christmas trees on that day, and runs through until 6 January, or Little Christmas. The greeting for "Happy Christmas" in Irish is Nollaig Shona Duit [singular] or Nollaig Shona Daoibh [plural]. The literal translation of this is "Happy Christmas to you".


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.


Mummering, or mumming, is a Christmas-time house-visiting tradition practised in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom.

Bonfire Night Annual event dedicated to bonfires, fireworks and celebrations

Bonfire Night is a name given to various annual celebrations characterised by bonfires and fireworks. The event celebrates different traditions on different dates, depending on the country. Some of the most popular instances include Guy Fawkes Night in Great Britain, which is also celebrated in some Commonwealth countries; Northern Ireland's Eleventh Night, and 5 November in Newfoundland and Labrador. In various parts of Ireland, Bonfire Nights are held on Saint John's Eve, Bealtaine eve and Halloween. In Scandinavia it is known as Walpurgis Night and in Denmark also sankthansaften. Saint John's Eve is also a very important celebration in Spain and Northern Portugal. Several other cultures also include night-time celebrations involving bonfires and/or fireworks.

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.

Mummers play Seasonal folk play

Mummers' plays are folk plays performed by troupes of amateur actors, traditionally all male, known as mummers or guisers. Historically, mummers' plays consisted of informal groups of costumed community members that visited from house to house on various holidays. Today the term refers especially 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.

Rum Ragged are a Canadian folk music group from Newfoundland and Labrador. They are most noted for their 2020 album The Thing About Fish, which was a shortlisted Juno Award nominee for Traditional Roots Album of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2021.


  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 4 Hiscock, Philip (December 2002). "More than Mummers: The Folklore of Newfoundland Christmas". The Newfoundland Quarterly. 95 (1): 11.
  4. Grose, Francis (1785). A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue. NO. 212, High Holborn, London: S. Hooper. p. 203.CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. "MR. O'CONNOR AT HUDDERSFIELD." Northern Star [1838], 30 November 1839.
  6. "GLASGOW ELECTION-RETURN OF JAMES OSWALD, ESQ". Morning Chronicle. London. 27 June 1839.
  7. see: "Foreign Correspondence." North American, 30 April 1849.
  8. Page, John T. (1902). "Tib's Eve". Notes and Queries. s9-IX, Issue 215 (215): 109. doi:10.1093/nq/s9-IX.215.109a.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Herridge, Paul (22 December 2009). "The Origins of Tibbs Eve". The Southern Gazette. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
  10. "Some English Provincialisms". Milwaukee Daily Sentinel. 8 (5). 28 November 1886. p. 4.
  11. "Ireland: Sayings, Proverbs, and Humours of Ulster". The British Medical Journal. 2 (2241): 1548. 12 December 1903. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.2241.1548. JSTOR   20278746. S2CID   220214250.
  12. Marshall, John J. (1904). "The Dialect of Ulster". Ulster Journal of Archaeology. 10 (3): 129 via JSTOR.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Mullaly, J.J. (24 March 1921). "The Acting Mayor Responds to the Inspector Gen'l". Saint Johns Evening Advocate Newspaper. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  17. "Tibb's Eve a Uniquely Newfoundland Way to Start the Holidays". VOCM.com. 23 December 2019. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  18. Smellie, Sarah (23 December 2020). "Pandemic dampening 'Tibb's Eve,' the unique N.L. holiday with folkloric origins". CityNews. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  19. Dignam, Natalie (2019). The craft beer network: inside Newfoundland's craft beer boom (masters). Memorial University of Newfoundland. p. 53.
  20. "Shine Your Light on Tibbs Eve 2014". Resource Centre for the Arts. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  21. Rose, Carl (9 January 2018). "Grand Bank Masons support food bank with Tibb's Eve event". The Southern Gazette. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  22. Rose, Carl (3 January 2017). "Tibb's Eve matinee and Food Drive: helping others at Christmas". The Southern Gazette. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  23. Kansas, Jane (23 January 2020). "Fare thee well, Newfoundland Store". The Coast. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  24. Carroll, Krista (19 December 2018). "Christmas without you: Central natives make the best of holidays far from families". Central Voice. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  25. Turner, Jocelyn (22 December 2014). "Mummers Night charitable fundraiser planned". The Daily Herald-Tribune. Grande Prairie. p. A.5. ProQuest   2215797011.
  26. "Canadian Beer News: Folly Brewpub Announces Late Autumn Release Schedule". Newstex Trade & Industry Blogs. 11 November 2016. ProQuest   1838273187.
  27. Ericsson, Sara (16 November 2019). "Best Kind comics talk Christmas tradition, and getting smashed". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  28. Dohey, Larry (22 December 2017). "ARCHIVAL MOMENTS: Tippling on Tibb's Eve". The Telegram. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  29. Perry, Christopher (1971). "Tipsey Eve". Dictionary of Newfoundland English Word Form Database. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  30. Smith, Edie (1971). "Tipps Eve". Dictionary of Newfoundland English Word Form Database. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  31. Kirwin, William (1985). "Folk Etymology: Remarks on Linguistic Problem Solving and who does it". Lore and Language. 04 (2): 21–22.