Scenic Newfoundland fishing port ( Image: Bigstock)
Unique experiences are what may travelers seek with their vacations these days. Some seek adventure; some seek new destinations; and others seek out new cultures. Being “screeched-in” sounds like a particularly gruesome cultural practice to experience voluntarily. While not being gruesome at all, this aspect of the Newfoundland & Labrador culture is definitely a unique activity and can be a lot of fun.
What is Screech?
To begin with “screech” is not anything verbal ( though a screech of pain may be in order depending on the alcohol content) but is a local term for what many might refer to as “white lightening”. It is cheap, high-alcohol drink and can be anything from 40% rum to moonshine. Screech began as a potent West Indies rum exchanged for salt cod in the early trading years of the British colony. Anyone not born in Newfoundland can become an honorary “Newfie” by partaking of the ceremony of being “screeched in”.
The ceremony consists of the visitor drinking a shot of this alcoholic drink, reciting a short declaration, and kissing a cod. Yes, you must also kiss a codfish on its lips or a similar ugly fish – the uglier the better – which may be unpleasant but, accomplished with a good sense of humour, becomes a great photographic and social media moment and a great travel memory. Only a true Newfoundlander may officiate at the event, the rules of which vary by location but retain the basic principles. The inductee must make a short, prepared recitation dedicated to Newfoundland and Labrador that finishes with a response to the demand if one is a “screecher” and in true Newfoundland dialect, one must reply: “Deed I is, me old cock. And long may yer big jib draw.” This translates loosely to “Yes, I am my old chap. May your sails always catch wind.” Then one must down a full shot of screech. The kissing of the cod reminds one that Newfoundland was born of the cod fishery, so the response to the challenge is a cross between a Newfoundland blessing and a toast.
Where Can you Partake of a Screech-In?
You can partake in a home ritual or more likely, as a visitor, in a pub setting. There are plenty of venues, especially in St. John’s, the capital. Many pubs offer these ceremonies to tourists or those “come from aways” and often do so as a group function so many folks are screeched-in at once. This adds to the hilarity. “Official” screech-in certificates may be granted post-ritual as a souvenir. Don’t be surprised if your ceremony also has extras added on such as sampling the local “cuisine” of Newfie steak known elsewhere as baloney, or wearing traditional fisherman gear such as a Sou’wester.
A Vacation Memory
Many popular cruise lines stop by Newfoundland or Labrador such as Hurtigruten, Princess, Holland America, and so on. Ask your travel professional to make sure you can include a screech-in memory with your visit to this unique and friendly province of Canada.
A Sou’wester (Bigstock)
Feature photo of the colourful houses of St. John’s harbour (The Battery) courtesy of Bigstock.