When people think of slushy cocktails, most bring to mind visions of warm ocean breezes, swaying palm trees and colourful little umbrellas. But in Newfoundland and Labrador, slush means one thing: Christmas.
While imbibers around the world enjoy a wide variety of fruit punches to light up the dark days of December, in Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s all about the Christmas Slush—a shockingly easy (and potent) batch cocktail. It’s a holiday must-have in the easterly province and, abandoning all cocktail etiquette, is prepared in a salt beef bucket.
Christmas slush is traditionally prepared with amber rum, frozen cans of lemonade and orange juice concentrate, pineapple juice and a whole lot of sugar. After an overnight freeze—sometimes on the porch—the slush is scooped into a tall glass and topped with lemon-lime soda for every Christmas occasion from Mummering to Nan dropping by, but in particular on Tibb’s Eve, which non-Newfoundlanders would know as December 23—one of the biggest revelling nights of the year.
Christmas slush has been around for decades and rose in popularity in the 1980s, but in recent years it has become a cultural phenomenon, with local artisans plastering images of that salt beef bucket of sloshy goodness on everything from Christmas cards and personalized drinking cups to sweatshirts and dog bandanas—there are even people in St. John’s selling red buckets with the recipe affixed to the side.
But slush is a whole lot more than a slurpable gimmick—it encapsulates beloved tradition, a sense of community and holiday hospitality in Newfoundland and Labrador.
According to folklorists, Tibb’s Eve dates back to the Second World War, when people on the island started referring to December 23 as the first night it was socially acceptable to start having a few Christmas tipples. An iteration of “tipsy eve,” December 23 is a way to get an early start on holiday merrymaking, and slush is at the heart of the celebrations for many. It’s typically consumed by visitors along with homemade cookies and “hors d’oeuvres,” which in Newfoundland and Labrador means pickles, cheese and Vienna sausages skewered on toothpicks. Some historians also have connected the consumption of slush—and drinking on Tibb’s Eve—to Welsh wassailing, which dates much further back in time to the late 1800s.
History aside, Christmas slush represents the need for Newfoundlanders to always have something to offer when welcoming mummers and revellers into their homes over the holidays. And what offers a sense of community better than the communal scooping of booze from a bucket and toasting to good fortune and family?
Why a salt beef bucket, you ask? Necessity is the mother of all invention (and great drinks). Salt beef is a critical component of Jiggs’ Dinner—Newfoundland and Labrador’s answer to Sunday turkey dinner—and typically comes in large plastic buckets, which are in abundance in many homes. For generations, salt beef buckets have served as the equivalent of Newfoundland Tupperware—filled with clothes pins on the clothesline, used as a bucket in the garden and of course filled with slush at Christmastime.
There are many iterations of Christmas slush, with the pina colada version one of the most popular: It replaces amber rum with Malibu and includes whipped cream for creamsicle vibes. Singapore Sling Slush is another common twist, made Sling-like by adding grenadine and cherry brandy.
Whichever recipe you choose, the tradition and sentiment are the same on Tibb’s Eve, a time for family, friends and buckets of booze.