There’s a fish in Daphne Izer’s freezer waiting to be kissed.
It will be the star of an event next weekend, along with rum, bologna, an authentic Canadian rock and knee-high rubber boots. They’re all elements of a ceremony that, judging by photos from years past, seems to attract uninhibited, shirtless men.
It sounds awesome.
The event is Newfoundland Day and the ceremony is a Screeching In, a step to become an honorary Newfoundlander.
Newfoundlanders, Izer said, love to have a good time. Hence the Screechers (those shirtless men). And the people with underwear on the outside of their clothes called Mummers.
And the jigs. Lots and lots of jigs.
“We just love getting together,” Izer said. “Any chance we get, we’ll do it.”
The third annual Newfoundland Day on June 1 at the Poland Spring Resort is expected to draw people from around New England.
Western Maine has hosted an annual Newfoundland Picnic each summer for more than 30 years. For the past 15, it’s been held in Izer’s Lisbon backyard. The “picnic” is a weekend-long event, very much like a family reunion, for those with Newfoundland ties.
Newfoundland Day is one evening and it’s for everyone, natives and the curious. It was dreamed up by the Squid Jiggers, musicians Dave Rowe and Troy Bennett.
Both were Screeched In at a Newfoundland Picnic several years back.
“It’s sort of like a religious rite gone mad,” Rowe said. “You replace the communal wafer with what they call Newfie steak, which is a chunk of bologna, which in itself is funny.”
And the fish bit?
“You sort of close your eyes and go in,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you where I hit, probably below the gill.”
The Squid Jiggers play what Rowe describes as maritime folk music. He sings and plays guitar and the tin whistle. Bennett plays guitar, the badhran (an Irish hand-drum) and the accordion.
The picnics were a fun gig, but “we just decided it would be fun to get the Newfoundlanders out and have a party in a pub setting,” Rowe said. “It’s grown and taken on a life of its own.”
Newfoundland Day starts with an optional buffet that has nods to the homeland: Jiggs dinner (corned beef and cabbage,) codfish cakes, toutons with molasses (fried dough) and figgy duff (pastry).
Then comes the music, the Mummers and the Screeching In.
Mummers are a tradition from Christmastime.
“You dress up in silly clothes, you disguise yourself and go house to house and they have to guess who you are,” Izer said. “Five or six of us will come out dancing. There’s the Mummers song; they’ve got to guess who we are.”
It isn’t always easy: Think pantyhose or shirts over the heads, socks over the hands.
Izer, who leads the Screeching In, said people either volunteer or find themselves tapped.
“Lots of times people will say, ‘We’d like to have so-and-so Screeched In,'” she said. “It’s an old tradition in Newfoundland. Lots of people who go up there on vacation get Screeched In.”
Participants dress in oilskin capes, sou’westers (yellow fisherman’s hat) and tall rubber boots. Izer starts the pledge. You take a shot of Screech rum, kiss the fish, kneel on a rock that Izer brought back from Newfoundland, finish the pledge and dance a jig.
Then, it’s official! You’re an honorary Newfoundlander with a certificate to prove it.
Now wipe your lips.
Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, unexplained and intriguing in Maine. Send ideas, photos and honorary certificates to firstname.lastname@example.org.