a bite-sized podcast about Newfoundland

NewfoundPod: Buy A Broom In May, Sweep Your Family Away

Hello and welcome back to NewfoundPod, a bite sized podcast about Newfoundland. I’m your host, Debbie Wiseman and this is another mini episode. I had planned to release an episode about the Colonial Building Riot, but I haven’t finished it and rather than rush through it, I thought I’d release this instead. Today I’m going to tell you about a couple of Newfoundland traditions regarding the month of May.

The first saying you may have heard of is a warning against purchasing a broom during the month of May. It goes “Buy a broom in May, sweep your family away.” Variations also include sweeping your friends, your fortune or even your own life away. You could also sweep the head of household away. Some superstitions even warn against using a broom at all during the month. The origins of this superstition have been lost over time, but it seems to have both English and Irish origins. In fact the superstition was so strong in Ireland that they even refused to make a broom during the month.

Another tradition revolved around the inevitable snowfall in May here in Newfoundland. While some other places are enjoying the spring weather, we know we will have a few more snowfalls at least. Our Irish ancestors suggested gathering some of that May snow in a bottle, letting it melt and dabbing it on your face to fade freckles. Personally, I like freckles. In my research, I of course consulted the writing of folklorist Larry Dohey, who said “A face without freckles is like a night without stars.” I completely agree.

Another use for that May snow that was collected was to cure ailments, specifically, sore eyes. Traditionally, the seal hunt ended around this time of the year. Fishermen refused to wear goggles, considering it “unmanly” and as a result, suffered from snow blindness. The May snow was said to soothe the sting from that. It could also be used to treat a sty and other ailments.

Thanks to Dale Jarvis and Larry Dohey, as always, for their tireless efforts in researching and preserving Newfoundland folklore. I’ll include links to their work in the show notes.

Thanks for listening today, and I’ll be back next week with a full episode. Talk to you then!

Dale Jarvis
Larry Dohey

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