Tibb's Eve in Newfoundland

Tibb's Eve 2005, Salvage, NL

Fast Facts:
  1. It's a Christmas tradition/expression from Newfoundland, Canada. 
  2. December 23rd is considered the unofficial start of Christmas and is often, but not always, associated with celebrating/drinking. 
  3. It is sometimes called Tip's Eve or Tipsy Eve.
  4. Tibb's Eve is not recognized everywhere on the island.
  5. Used as an expression, it means a day that will never come.

In a recent Twitter exchange I saw someone question the veracity of a host of Newfoundland customs. Truthfully, a lot of the items of the list were brand new to me, I’d never heard of them. One of the customs, however, I’ve lived with my whole life — Tibb’s Eve.

Now, just because I’ve lived it doesn’t mean I can share much information on its origin.1 Like so much of culture, the form outlived the function.2 Long story short, I don’t know why it exists and neither does anyone else really, at least, not with any high degree of certainty. While I can’t reliably explain where it came from, I can tell you what it meant to me. It might be worth mentioning, that I grew up in Happy Adventure, Bonavista Bay. I think that’s relevant. If you ask someone from Belleoram, you might get a different response.

In my part of the world Tibb’s Eve is December 23rd — Christmas Eve eve.

And Christmas Eve eve, is a good way of conceptualizing it. Tibb’s Eve was exciting because it meant that the holidays were here, that Santa Claus would be coming tomorrow. I don’t remember any particular custom or tradition associated with the day, it seemed like it was more about naming the day that transitioned from dark December into peak holiday excitement — the next day stockings would be hung.

If you research Tibb’s Eve you will likely find references to Tipsy Eve and alcohol. That was not my experience. I don’t remember it being a ‘party’ event and certainly not a ‘drink until you’re tipsy’ event.3 That may have been the way it is for some people though. That’s the thing about Newfoundland culture — there is no singular Newfoundland culture.

Outside of Christmas, Tibb’s Eve had another, possibly related, meaning. Throughout the year Tibb’s Eve would come up in conversation when somebodywanted to say ‘a day that will never come.’ In my experience it was used in much the same way as ‘from now til kingdom come’. If I were shovelling the driveway after a heavy snowfall I might say ‘I’ll be at this from now til Tibb’s Eve,’ meaning this is going to take… forever.5

I don’t know which usage of Tibb’s Eve came first but I’d like to think they're related. Both speak of anticipation — looking forward to something that can’t get here fast enough.

Do you mark Tibb’s Eve in your family? If you have any special customs, I’d love to hear about them.

1. If I were going to try I’d implicate the ‘non-existent’ St. Tib. 
2. Without resorting to Google, do you know why you eat cake on your birthday? Or put candles on it? 
3. A friend from the south coast, not Belleoram, told me she grew up knowing it as Tipsy Eve. For what’s worth, the St. Tib sounds like a character who might enjoy a drink.
4.  Often my grandfather
5. If you had a heavy snowfall on the morning of December 23rd, you HAD to use the expression just for the comedic value.


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