Resource A: Public Holidays
In Newfoundland and Labrador, pursuant to The Shops Closing Act, there are 10 “shops closing holidays”. These are days in which businesses in the wholesale and retail industries (other than exempt shops) must close to the public. They are not necessarily paid days and not all of them are necessarily “statutory” holidays.
Other businesses may choose to close on these days as well, however, they are not required to do so.
There is also a civic day in certain cities and municipalities which is observed pursuant to The Shops Closing Act. These civic days are not “paid days off” either.
With respect to paid public holidays, under The Labour Standards Act, there are only 6. They are:
- New Year’s Day – January 1st,
- Good Friday – the Friday before Easter,
- Canada Day (Memorial Day) – July 1st,
- Labour Day – first Monday in September,
- Remembrance Day – November 11th, and
- Christmas Day – December 25th.
Other non-statutory holidays in NL – but holidays that are often celebrated – include:
- George’s Day – April 23rd,
- Easter Monday – Monday after Easter (a federal government holiday only),
- Mothers’ Day – 2nd Sunday in May,
- Victoria Day – Monday before May 24th (the Queen’s Official Birthday),
- Fathers’ Day – 3rd Sunday in June,
- Discovery Day – the Monday closest to June 24th (St. John’s Day in the capital city),
- Orangeman’s Day – July 11th,
- Regatta Day – 1st Wednesday in August (a St. John’s civic holiday only),
- Thanksgiving Day – 1st Monday in October, and
- Boxing Day – December 26th.
There is nothing preventing businesses from paying for additional days’ holiday for its employees, however, they are not required to pay for more than the six as stated above.
Holidays Then and Now
In addition to the above statutory or civic holidays, there are a number of special days recognised in NL throughout the year, such as:
- Candlemas Day – February 2nd – a Roman Catholic tradition celebrating the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
- Pancake Night – Shrove Tuesday – derived from widespread customs in European traditions, and shaped by religious beliefs, Shrove Tuesday (named for the religious practice of confessing one’s sins and being “shriven” or “shrove” by the priest immediately before Lent began) was a time to use up as many as possible of the foods banned during Lent: meat products in particular, including butter and eggs. Therefore, families are served pancakes on Pancake Night immediately prior to Lent.
- Midsummer’s Day can be traced back to European traditions before the advent of Christianity. Its roots go back through the bonfire celebrations that are still made on the Southern Shore of the Avalon Peninsula on the longest day of the year (June 22nd or June 23rd).
- Hallowe’en – October 31st – In this province, a half-dozen Hallowe’en-related customs are recorded. The few days before Hallowe’en, for example, and sometimes after it, are called “Mischief Week” (or Mischief Night if it falls locally on a single date). Children have traditionally believed that there are certain kinds of mischief allowed at that time: stuffing sods in chimneys, soaping windows, taking pins from gate hinges, and so on. When combined with the local bonfire traditions, it might even include stealing old tires, fences and boats to make the bonfire bigger. On Hallowe’en night, children dress up in scary clothes and go door to door to beg for candies by “trick or treating” – where those householders not giving treats get a trick played on them.
- Guy Fawkes Night – November 5th – celebrates an attempt by Guy Fawkes to burn down the Parliament Buildings in London, England, in 1605. Since Guy Fawkes was burned in a fire, those celebrating Guy Fawkes night collect flammable materials to make the fire and they make up mock Guy Fawkes characters using old clothes. The models are burned in the fire and fireworks adorn the sky. In NL, many communities host firework displays and offer residents hot chocolate and hot dogs.
- Advent Sunday – December 6th – (primarily in Labrador) carrying on the tradition brought by Moravian missionaries, children hang advent stockings and small advent trees, and receive gifts.
- Tipp’s Eve – December 23rd – this is the first of the Christmas season celebrations and it is found along the south coast of the island. Also known as “Tipsy Eve”, it calls for the consumption of the holiday season’s first Christmas Cheer (alcoholic beverages) in outport communities.
- Stephen’ Day – December 26th (Boxing Day) marks the beginning of Christmas mummering – see below under “Life Style Customs”
Life Events and Customs
Marriage Customs – stag parties are a rite of initiation for men who by their upcoming wedding move from being single men, associating mainly with other single men, to being married men, with family responsibilities. The term is one from the 1950s and the custom of having such parties developed in that time. Nonetheless, such pre-nuptial parties are older than this century: men were known to raise a few glasses to toast the groom and his new bride in the last century and no doubt long before.
Television, movies, and other mass media have influenced some of the expectations regarding the modern stag party. For example, thirty years ago cartoons frequently showed a group of drunken men around a package out of which was jumping a dancing, semi-clad woman. Although stag parties are known in NL, they are not as widespread as other wedding-related customs.
“Staggette” and “bachelorette” are terms that came into being in the 1980s as a women’s response to stag parties. They are a wilder form of the bridal shower, something a woman may have in addition to the shower. At the staggette, female friends of the bride will gather for a few drinks, sometimes relying on a bar-hop for the schedule: a visit for a single drink to each of as many bars as is possible. It might also include the appearance of professional male dancers.
The bridal shower is much more genteel than the staggette. The latter normally includes fairly close friends, while the bridal shower usually includes a much a wider age range: three or four generations of women may attend. Like the stag party for men, the shower is a “certification” of transformation from single status to married status. Folklorists have pointed out that many of the games that are pastimes at bridal showers seem to mirror tasks that a traditional mother was expected to perform: for example, one traditional game is to see who can pick up with one hand the most clothespins.
Birthday – birthday customs are as traditionally variable as calendar customs. Even though the term “bumps” is widely used, it does not refer to the same activity. In Newfoundland bumps usually refers to four people picking up the birthday child and bouncing their rump against the ground, once for each year and “one to grow on.” In some other places bumps refers to the same number of kicks, slaps or “knees” in the thigh or buttocks.
In a few parts of NL, the southwest coast and the west coast in particular, the traditional birthday trick is what is often known as “grease face.” The same custom is known in parts of the Maritime provinces of Canada as “buttered noses”. As early as is convenient on the birthday someone tries to reach from behind the birthday boy or girl and dab on their nose a fingerful of grease, often butter. This is accompanied by best wishes for the year, now lubricated with the greasy face. Among schoolchildren this custom sometimes takes the form of pushing a sweet, creamy cake in the face.
Wakes – until the past fifty years, almost all wakes were held in the person’s home, usually in the best room of the house, often the “parlour” or “front room,” usually reserved for a visit from Priest or Minister, and rarely used for anything else. Nowadays, this tradition of sitting by a recently deceased loved-one and taking visitors, has mainly shifted to commercial funeral homes.
Nonetheless, many of the cultural traditions have remained the same, that of sharing stories and food and of renewing friendships through the death of a common friend or relative continue to the present. Traditions abound in Newfoundland about the different forms of funerals and wakes; it is often said that Irish-derived funerals are less formal than English-derived ones. Traditional prank stories tell of tricks played on grieving relatives by neighbours who make it appear that the corpse has sat up, or spoken.
“Screech-In” – perhaps the most controversial custom in NL in recent years is the “Screech-In”. It is historically related to such traditions as equatorial line-crossing and initiation rites known all over the world. It derives from “honourary Newfoundlanders” rites of the 1940s and pranks played on new sealers going to the ice. The Screech-In came into being in the 1970s when Joe Murphy and Joan Morrissey put together an entertainment at the Bella Vista Country Club in St John’s. It included local musical performers and a dress-up skit by which members of the audience were humorously “screeched-in.”
In later years the Screech-In was widely performed by Myrle Vokey and by employees of the Newfoundland Liquor Commission. Typically, initiates are made to kiss a codfish, drink some Screech (rum) and repeat a semi-dialect, slightly risqué recitation.
In 1990, the custom came under fire from several directions and was attacked as a destructive mocking of NL culture. The Premier at the time, Clyde Wells, ordered the Liquor Commission to destroy “Order of Screechers” certificates that bore his official signature. Nonetheless, the Screech-In has continued well into this millennium as a widely favoured way of welcoming visitors to NL with an entertaining ritual.
Mummering – also known as “mumming” or “janneying”, typically involves a group of friends or family who dress in disguise and visit homes within their community or neighbouring communities during the twelve days of Christmas. If the mummers are welcomed into a house, they often do a variety of informal performances that may include dance, music, jokes, or recitations. The hosts must guess the mummers’ identities before offering them food or drink. They may poke and prod the mummers or ask them questions. But to make this a challenge for the hosts, the mummers may stuff their costumes, cross-dress, or speak while inhaling. Once the mummers have been identified, they remove their disguises, spend some social time with the hosts, and then travel as a group to the next home.