The origins of Tibbs Eve

Paul Herridge
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Ever have a few alcoholic beverages to celebrate Tibb's Eve? Many people along the province's south coast may have, but you might not know how it originated.

Ever have a few alcoholic beverages to celebrate Tibb's Eve?

Many people along the province's south coast may have, but you might not know how it originated.

Although the term itself is quite old, according to Dr. Phil Hiscock of Memorial University's Folklore Department, the idea of Tibb's Eve as a particular day on the calendar - the day before Christmas Eve - is specific to Newfoundland and Labrador.

As he explained it, sometime around World War Two, people along the south coast began to associate Dec. 23 with the phrase 'Tibb's Eve' and deemed it the first occasion it was acceptable to have a few Christmas tipples.

In many of the outport communities, it became a day where the men would visit each other's homes for a taste.

Because Christmas Eve was still a part of Advent, and that observance was almost as sober as Lent, Dr. Hiscock indicated most traditional Christians would never consider taking a nip before Christmas Day prior to World War Two, which was even then perhaps a little early.

Tibb's Eve became a lighthearted means to extend the season - an idea Dr. Hiscock recognized is not unlike when workers in the 19th century would lengthen their weekends by taking 'St. Monday' off from work.

"So, it's very much a modernist thing, but just when that modernist thing kicked in I don't know."

Tibb's Eve is sometimes known by several different names depending on the community. In some places, it's called 'Tipp's Eve' or 'Tipsy's Eve' - an evolution of the name in characteristic folkloric fashion.

He laughed "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 hundred of years. So, there's no reason why people should not make humourous adjustments to it in the present."

That explains how Tibb's Eve became associated with Dec. 23 along the south coast, but the phrase itself holds the key to its Christmastime connection.

Dr. Hiscock hinted Tibb's Eve became sort of an old-fashioned way to say 'never', as in 'a day that doesn't exist'.

He noted there's an interview in the Folklore archives at Memorial with a man from a community in Placentia Bay, born probably in the early 1900s, who asks the student who's interviewing him when she plans to get married.

"She says, 'Oh, probably never' and so he kind of winks his eye and says, 'Oh, on Tibb's Eve, hey!' and on the tape she has no idea what he's talking about. For him, that's a normal way, a joking way, but a normal way of something that not going to happen."

Dr. Hiscock noted several hundred years ago in England, 'tibb' was slang for a woman who was sexually promiscuous - a direct reference to a female cat. He said many English plays throughout the 1600s would feature roles with the name.

When a character named Tibb would walk onstage, people would laugh because they knew what was about to happen.

"Tibb was a kind of loose-moraled girl, and to say there was a Saint Tibb was clearly a joke for those who were in the know, but for children it wasn't a joke at all. They just treated Saint Tibb as they would Saint Mary or Saint Catherine or whoever else, but adults would always know there is no Saint Tibb."

Because it didn't exist, Tibb's Eve was a non-time. Dr. Hiscock suggested there are several similar silly phrases in the English language, the 'twelfth of never' and 'when two Sundays fall together' being others.

And thus, the Christmas tie in.

"One of the traditional ways of reputing what Tibb's Eve was when a kid would ask 'When's Tibb's Eve?' was to say, 'Oh, it's neither before nor after Christmas' or 'It's neither before nor after New Year's.'"

Today, one of the most well-known Tibb's Eve celebrations occurs in Grand Bank, hosted by Fidelity Masonic Lodge No. 5. The organization holds the event on the Saturday prior to Christmas Day and uses it as a fundraiser for local charities.

Organizations: Grand Bank

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Placentia Bay, England Saint Mary Saint Catherine

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Recent comments

  • Tibbs
    September 26, 2014 - 11:00

    I found this comical. As a child , other children would call us tibbycat.

  • WDW-49
    December 23, 2013 - 15:39

    Great story and great comments from everyone, ah the history and the stories.....THANK YOU ALL! -off to start my fifth "Tibb's Eve"---Merry Christmas to all !

  • MarieWhite1
    December 23, 2013 - 07:39

    After reading the article and comments, your all a little bit right. It was a day for dropping off presents, which was also used as an excuse to sample the neighbors home brew. Definately a way to ease into the Christmas Season. I've taken the tradition from the western shore to Alberta 33 years ago.

  • Lenora
    February 27, 2012 - 22:21

    From what I was told, it came about before buying alcohol was legal. The men would be brewing their Christmas booze, and as anyone who has ever made something knows, you always have to sample it! So after having a taste of their own, and their buddy's, and so on, everyone ended up slightly tipsy. Not exactly sure where tibbs comes from.

  • Verdun
    December 23, 2011 - 18:24

    Bay D'Espoir all the way, i'll have a brew to that. Tibb's eve, christmas eve, and christmas day all big drinkin days. Cheers.

  • Niall Sheridan
    December 23, 2011 - 17:52

    I think the origin is older, I remember my mother talking about it - she never left Dublin, Ireland, - so I feel it's origins might have come from there.

    • emyr jones
      July 17, 2012 - 13:19

      In Desmond Ryan's book 'Michael Collins' first published in 1937, giving a semi-fictitious account of the Irish Civil War and Michael Collins's role in it, the phrase 'Tibb's Eve' is defined as 'the day after the Day of Judgement' (page 115). So it seems that the origin is Irish as indicated by Niall's recollection of his mother using the term.

  • Dean Foote
    December 22, 2011 - 08:28

    Thank you for the helpful information. Gave a GREAT "Tibbs Eve" tomorrow.

  • Glenn Leroy
    November 21, 2011 - 23:29

    Thank you for the Tipps eve information.I have been in alberta for 16 yrs and it gets hard some times when our newfoundland ways come out up here.I am very proud to be be from nfld and the way we do things.We are of different ways and in some eyes just different . BUT we know who we are and were we came from.Family and freindship are dear to us and that scares some people.Good or bad,rick or poor,down and out or high on the hill.In newfoundland we take care of all.Tipps Eve in nfld or in Alberta it don't matter,be fair to all and to all tipp a drink and enjoy.

  • Preston Bromley
    December 23, 2010 - 23:44

    Tip's Eve has long been celebrated (and is alive and well) as it were on many Northern Peninsula and Fogo communities, not just the South Coast of the island. Many of the diaspora from these places have brought the tradition abroad to Alberta, Nunavut, NWT, Yukon, USA and beyond.

  • Dean
    December 23, 2010 - 18:18

    I grew up in Gaultois on the souths coast and we know it as Tipps eve. Even though I left Gaultois many years ago Tipps eve is still a very important day in our Christmas celebrations usually reserved for visiting friends and neighbours, dropping off gifts and having a few swallies.

  • Rob
    July 08, 2010 - 13:14

    I tried to do some internet research on this last Christmas and didn't find anything helpful. Obviously, there's not a lot of definite stuff out there but this article is great! Thank you! I never heard of it until, mysteriously, around drinking age all my friends started referring to it like it was common knowledge, and I just rolled with it -- it's the biggest drinking day of the year, by. E'eryone knows dat .

  • Andrea Edwards
    July 08, 2010 - 13:14

    Wonderful article. First result I got when I googled it ... and I am from Marystown! I don't remember this one growing up, but had many friends from the Northern Peninsula who wouldn't think of leaving it out of their Christmas traditions. Happy Tibb's Eve! Sociable!

    • marion
      November 08, 2011 - 18:02

      in bay despoir we always called it tibbs eve just knew as a child that santa was almost here and mom would say that every xmas cookie and cake should be done by then.that was also the day we put up the tree and decorated it with a few ornaments and a star.garland was a wrap around for the tree back then and of course who can forget the balloons....those were the day