Christmas in Newfoundland
Christmas is a wonderful time right across Canada, but Christmas in Newfoundland is something extra special. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador we’ve got a few things that make it a pretty unique celebration. Isolation often breeds a quirkiness you don’t see in connected communities, and let’s face it, for a long time Newfoundland was pretty isolated, from the mainland and even from each other. So please indulge our quirkiness. It makes us endearing. ;)
Big Stick in the Downtown Christmas Parade
For me, the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season is the annual Downtown Christmas Parade in St. John’s at the end of November. My favourite parade entry isn’t the big man himself or the beautiful horse guard of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. It’s a person dressed up as a giant stick of Maple Leaf bologna. Yep. A parade highlight is a tribute to that questionable product full of “and/ors” that some people still refer to as “Newfie steak”. The Big Stick is a townie Christmas icon around here.
Trips to YYT
So many Newfoundlanders have moved off the island but still return at Christmas that making a pick-up at St. John’s International Airport (YYT) is as much a part of the townie holiday season as fighting for parking at the Avalon Mall.
Every year on the eve of Christmas Eve you’ll find Newfoundlanders cracking open their Christmas stash of liquor and hosting or attending a Tibb’s Eve party. Back in the day, Advent was a serious, sober time leading up to Christmas. But after weeks of abstaining we just couldn’t hold out any longer and in the mid-20th century created the made-up holiday of Tibb’s Eve as an excuse to have a tipple before Christmas Day. It’s now prime party time in St. John’s.
Local Christmas Albums and Concerts
We have a lot of talented musicians in our population of 500,000. And it seems like every other one has a Christmas album out. Christmas isn’t Christmas if I don’t listen to at least six local Christmas albums. Whether you’re into classics like Simani and Shanneyganock, compilations like Homebrew or Downhomer Presents, silly like Snook, or modern like The Once or Hey Rosetta you could easily listen to a different album by a Newfoundland artist every day of the season and still have a backlog.
Along with the recorded albums, Christmas concerts have a way of becoming their own traditions. I fondly remember the odd time I was able to make it to a Great Big Christmas. Shanneyganock, The Once, and Hey Rosetta (though this year will be their last) all have long standing Christmas shows you should look up if you’re in town.
Purity Syrup and Cookies for Santa
While most children in Canada put out milk and cookies for Santa, he gets a different drink to wet his whistle here. Purity is a company that’s been making cookies, candies, and other assorted food stuffs since 1924 here on the island. Purity syrup is a line of super sweet fruit-flavoured concentrates and is especially population over Christmas. My personal favourite is raspberry. I’m a bit of a heathen though and add it to my fizzed up Sodastream water.
Mummering is another unique Newfoundland experience. Between Boxing Day and Old Christmas Day you and your friends get dressed up in disguises and costumes and go knocking on doors in your neighbourhood. We’re not talking cohesive Halloween style costumes though. We’re talking long johns, padded bras on men, mismatched shoes, bathrobes, and Nan’s doily or pillowcase over your face. The main goal is to not be recognizable. No speaking either, unless you can mumble (or mummer as it were). The inhaled ‘yeah’ is quite popular while mummering.
Neighbours invite you in and offer you a drink while they tried to guess who you were. In the meantime, you’d pay for your drink with some tunes or a dance. Every mummer group must include at least one musician or someone with a portable speaker and Simani on bust. Once identities are guessed, it’s off to the next house to continue the party.
While the tradition has died off in the traditional sense as communities have gotten bigger, and neighbours not as familiar with each other, it’s enjoying an organized revival in St. John’s with the annual Mummers Festival and Parade. Taking away the whole stranger danger element that comes with masked cavorters showing up unannounced on your doorstep makes the event more family friendly in this day and age.
That being said, a group of our friends still drop by every year for a drink and a scuff. Keep an eye on my Instagram Stories and I bet you’ll catch a glimpse of them.
Old Christmas Day
Did you know, the twelve days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day itself and count up to Old Christmas Day on January 6th, instead of counting down to Christmas Day? The name has its origins in England’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, which dropped 12 days from the old calendar and resulted in Christmas being celebrated December 25, rather than January 6. The year after that purists insisted that Christmas day was 365 days after the last one landing it on January 6th. Well… who are we to argue when it means more holiday? If you take your tree down before Old Christmas Day, you’re dead to me.
So between the bologna, Purity syrup, Tibb’s Eve, and extending the holiday for 12 days, if you come to Newfoundland for Christmas, you’re going to be in for a good time.