The “feu de joie” or “fire of joy” is a gun salute that was common place in Newfoundland in the past, an activity that is associated with bringing in the New Year.
The tradition continues in many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, at the stroke of mid night gun shots are fired as residents bring in the New Year.
In an article entitled “The Folk-Lore of Newfoundland and Labrador,” appearing in the St. John’s newspaper “The Evening Herald,” (December 29, 1892), the Anglican Missionary priest, Rev. Arthur C. Waghorne discusses Christmas traditions that are observed in Newfoundland which “either continue to prevail, or have been only lately disused.” One of the traditions that he refers to is the “firing off the gun.”
In his article he notes that the tradition of the “firing off the gun” is not as popular as it was fifty years ago confirming that the tradition has been established in Newfoundland since at least 1842 and perhaps much longer.
One could speculate that the tradition might have been established in Newfoundland as early as 1621 with the arrival of Lord Baltimore’s first settlers in Ferryland. We do know that the practice in North America dates to at least 1642 when a law in Maryland (also established by Lord Baltimore) was passed ordering that:
“No man to discharge 3 guns within the space of ¼ hour… except to give or answer alarm.”
The law was introduced in Maryland because gunshots were the common method of warning neighbors of an emergergency (fire) or a pending attack. Because so many people were shooting guns while celebrating on New Years Eve and other celebratory occasions, it was impossible to know what was happening.
It is a tradition that is gradually fading – with the “shooting in the New Year” being gradually replaced by fire works that have the advantage of supplying both the noise and visual effect.
It is generally accepted that the practice of shooting off the guns on New Years Eve comes from the belief that evil spirits dislike loud noises. The guns were fired off to ward off any bad luck that the spirits might bring.”
New Year’s Eve Countdown & Fireworks : When the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, the people of Newfoundland are the first in North America to celebrate the New Year.
Pet owners are reminded that the noise associated with ‘gun fire’ and ‘fireworks’ will likely be a frightening experience for your pet – please attend to your pets, most pets would prefer to be inside during the fireworks display.
Recommended Reading: Devine, P.K. Devine’s Folk Lore of Newfoundland in Old Words, Phrases and Expressions, Their Origin and Meaning (St John’s: Robinson & Co., Ltd., 1937)