Charlie Trumbull of Santa Fe, New Mexico, kisses a cod held by Daphne Izer of Lisbon to become an honorary Newfoundlander at Mel’s Hilltop Restaurant and Bar in Poland on Saturday evening. Ross Graham, right, of Naples also downed screech and kissed the cod. 

POLAND — What began seven years ago as a celebration of Newfoundland-born Squid Jiggers fans has become a community of friends from all over New England who come together to embrace friendship and celebrate the land they left behind.

This was The Squid Jiggers’ fifth year at Mel’s Hilltop Restaurant at Poland Spring Resort.

Daphne Izer of Lisbon Falls, who originally hailed from a little town called Sunnyside, Newfoundland, came to the United States 45 years ago. Izer also holds an annual Newfie get-together that she started almost 30 years ago.

Izer said the Newfie Day event draws fellow Newfoundlanders from all over New England and beyond.

“It’s like meeting friends all over,” Izer said, “even if you haven’t met them before — because you’re away from home, right?”

Izer said one of the highlights of the evening was the screeching ceremony, involving screech, a potent form of rum from Newfoundland.

Izer said there are many stories regarding the origins of the drink but the one she tells is how American servicemen would taste the harsh liquor and “screech” at the taste.

The ceremony held each year involves drinking screech, eating bologna, something Izer said is referred to back home as Newfoundland steak, and — wait for it — kissing a fish. After that, the screechee receives a certificate and is taken in as an honorary Newfie.

There were six initiates this year who recited an oath while placing their hand upon a rock from Newfoundland. Then came the bologna — large chunks of it — placed directly into the initiate’s mouth, communion style.

Izer then handed out shots of screech. They were going to need the fortitude for what followed when Izer, in turn, slathered each initiate’s face with a large, slimy haddock. Each good sport then took a photo with a certificate of authenticity, declaring him or her as a new Newfie.

The night also would not be complete without the arrival of mummers.

“It’s a tradition in Newfoundland and it happens every Christmas,” Izer explained. “You go from house to house and you’re dressed up kind of like Halloween. Once they guess your name, they’ll give you some screech.”

Lena Hann of Lewiston grew up in Freshwater, Newfoundland, and came to the United States at the age of 24 after meeting an American sailor there and marrying him.

When her former husband was looking for a place to retire, they chose Brunswick Naval Air Station because of its proximity to Canada. Hann said she met Izer on her first day in Maine and the two have been friends ever since.

Hann said the Newfie spirit of friendship is what makes this gathering so special and non-Newfies are just as welcome.

“Are you from Newfoundland?” Hann asked. “If you’re not, were you ever there? Would you like to go there?”

Hann said everybody in their community and extended Newfie community are friends, whether they’ve met yet or not.

“If we can’t be home in Newfoundland and we choose to live in the States and are happy, then getting together with a bunch of people — it’s a way to be home,” Hann said.

Hann said her advice to those wanting to visit her homeland is easy — get lost. She said getting off the beaten path is the best way to get to know the caring, friendly nature of Newfoundlanders.

“We have a different culture up there and it’s a friendly, loving, don’t-take-yourself-seriously kind of culture,” Hann said.

Founders of Newfie Day, Dave Rowe and Troy Bennett of The Squid Jiggers, said it’s their way of doing something nice for all their Newfoundlander friends.

Bennett said when they picked the band name, it was really picked randomly from a Newfoundland folk song, “The Squid Jiggin’ Ground.”

“Very soon thereafter, we started playing — the expatriate Newfoundlanders started finding us because the song, ‘The Squid Jiggin’ Ground’ is kind of the unofficial national anthem of Newfoundland,” Bennett said.

Their Newfie following kept growing, so the duo decided to make it into a party to celebrate their fans. Although the event is an annual celebration, Rowe said scheduling depends on when it’s convenient for Izer — the master of ceremonies.

Dave Rowe of The Squid Jiggers serves shots of Newfoundland screech rum during the screeching ceremony at Mel’s Hilltop Restaurant in Poland. 


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