Tibb's Eve

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Tibb's Eve
Observed byNewfoundlanders
SignificanceBeginning of the Christmas season
ObservancesDrinking and merriment
Date23 December
Next time23 December 2020 (2020-12-23)
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 December 23 originating in Newfoundland and Labrador.[1]

Origin of the phrase[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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]

External Links[edit]


  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. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c d 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.