We have lots of summer traditions in our beautiful province. Some people go camping, some people go trouting, some go out cod jigging during the food fishery, some go to the cabin and drink, some just go to the cabin (like us). But the one tradition that unites all Newfoundlanders throughout the summer months is talking about the weather.
Of course, this tradition also unites us all the rest of the year. But summer weather offers some unique things to discuss.
First, some terms and definitions:
Summer: Never mind what the calendar says: if a Newfoundlander tells you something’s happening “in the summer” they mean it’s happening during the months of July and/or August. June does not count, although some may stretch the definition to include the last week of June after school gets out. And if you were going to do it during the summer, it had better be done by Labour Day. September is nearly always a very pleasant month here, but nobody considers it part of summer.
Hot: This term has a different meaning in Newfoundland than in some other parts of North America. In other places it is common to complain about “the heat” or “how hot it is,” usually when temperatures get above about 32 degrees Celsius (90 Farenheit). As this never occurs in Newfoundland, “hot” weather is not something to complain about (with rare exceptions noted below). “Hot” means any temperature between 20-30C (about 70-85 F) and it is what we hope for, long for, plan for, enjoy when we have it and curse when it doesn’t come.
There are numerous other terms relevant to Newfoundland summer (e.g. mauzy, RDF, “a large day,” etc.) but those will have to wait for another entry.
There are some comments you’ll hear accompanying particular weather patterns during the “summer” months here. To understand these comments you need to know that while statistics will tell you that 59% of Newfoundlanders are Protestants, 37% are Catholics and 4% either have no religious affiliation or follow another recognized world religion, there is a deeper reality. 100% of Newfoundlanders also practice a more ancient, atavistic religion. We do not exactly worship, but we certainly acknowledge and fear, the Weather Gods. We rarely speak of them, but these nameless, faceless deities control our lives, and much of our conversation is directed towards appeasing them, praising them, and, most importantly, assuring them that we never take their rare moments of generosity for granted.
- “It don’t look like we’re going to get no summer at all this year.” This statement is made during any stretch of cold, foggy or rainy weather that occurs before we get a stretch of warm, sunny weather. Newfoundlanders can start saying this as early as mid-June, conveniently forgetting that every June of their entire lives has been cold, foggy and rainy. If this pattern, also known as “caplin weather” after the small fish who allegedly like it for spawning, persists into July, this comment will become more frequent and doleful, reflecting the deep-seated belief that some year, summer will actually not arrive.The phrase suggests a fatalistic acceptance of the Weather Gods’ whims, assuring them we will be able to handle it if they withdraw summer entirely. If the fear that we’ll get no summer at all persists for most of July, we will likely make news headlines across North America with our tongue-in-cheek response (see the “arrests” of weathermen Snodden and Sheerr in July 2015).
- “Well, that was our summer.” Invariably said by someone on the evening of the first July day the temperature hits above 20F and the sun shines. See above-noted deep-seated fear that summer will not arrive. This is immediately followed by the fear that it will only last one day. Again, the goal is to make it clear to whatever shadowy powers control the weather that we know we’re lucky to get even one good day.
- “This is our one good week, I s’pose.” Any stretch of good weather (i.e., sunshine and temperatures above 20) will elicit this response. Again, it is considered bad luck to express any optimism; we must always assure the Weather Gods that we know they are capricious and their favour is fleeting.
- “Sure the summer is over after Regatta Day.” Regatta Day — to the best of my knowledge, the only weather-dependent civic holiday anywhere — is the first Wednesday in August, or the first fine day after that. (Two caveats: this only applies to the St. John’s area, and in this case “fine” means not sunny and warm, but calm and windless, which is even less likely in St. John’s. The Regatta is a rowing race, although the attendant carnival on the lakeshore is a bigger attraction than the races for many townies).
The common belief that summer ends on Regatta Day insulates us against disappointment in case of a cold, rainy August, and assures the Weather Gods that any nice days we do get in August will be treated as a gift rather than a right. No sense of entitlement here!
- “We’ll pay for this next winter.” This is said anytime three good days have occurred consecutively, and reflects the believe that the Weather Gods, as vengeful pagan deities, will exact payment in the form of an unusually harsh winter.
- “My blessed, we’ll die with the heat.” While some Newfoundlanders, myself included, refuse on principle to ever complain about our rare hot days, others will utter this type of statement as soon as the temperature hits 25C (77F) — or the humidity makes it feel like it’s above 25. Vigorously fanning themselves and moaning as they toss about in bed, they will profess themselves anxious for the chilly weather that will be back all too soon.
- “Sure, who’d want to live anywhere else?” A perfect Newfoundland summer day is one where the temperature is in the low to mid 20s (that’s the 70s for you Americans), the sun shines in a cloudless sky, and a gentle but steady breeze blows, keeping the air fresh. (Here in St. John’s that kind of day is always accompanied by a breeze from the southwest; I’m not sure if different wind directions bring good weather in other parts of the province. I didn’t do Geography in high school).
That probably sounds idyllic to those of you who live in hotter climates, doesn’t it? We get maybe (in a good year) 21 days like that a year — that’s three weeks, but not three consecutive weeks. 21 or so days scattered throughout the months of July and August. Sometimes one comes early, in June, or lingers late in September. So that perfect summer day sounds idyllic to us, too, during the other 49 weeks of the year when it’s cold, rainy, and foggy.But here’s the great thing about Newfoundlanders: we have terrible memories. When that one beautiful day comes along, even if it’s been preceded by two solid weeks of fog, we forget that we were ever miserable. And we get out and enjoy it. You will never see more happy people outdoors in shorts and tank tops than you will on a warm day in St. John’s. And at the end of a perfect day, whether we’re around the campfire or the barbecue, sitting by the lake or on our back deck, we’ll sigh and say, “Sure, who’d ever want to live anywhere else?”The Weather Gods may hate us most of the time, but at least they can’t say we’re ungrateful.