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Padstow Obby Oss and Other Traditional Cornish Festivals

Cornwall is a county steeped in myth and legend. It may be best known as a cool beach holiday destination, but the county also has a deep rooted heritage and boasts many long held traditions. Evidence of its Pagan and Celtic past can be seen throughout the county in its standing stones, legendary tales and historic traditions that have stood the test of time. Perhaps the best known is Padstow’s Obby Oss, which is just a few weeks away, but there are plenty of other traditional events and festivals to witness and experience while visiting Cornwall.

Obby Oss, Padstow

Obby Oss festival Padstow

Obby Oss festival Padstow. © Bryan Ledgard , via Flickr. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

This traditional May Day celebration has been practised in Padstow for many centuries. It’s a day when the town’s inhabitants come together for a boisterous street festival of folk singing and dancing, accompanied by musicians with accordians and drums. The parade centers around two Obby Osses (Hobby Horses) – the Old Oss and the Blue Ribbon Oss. Each of the gyrating Osses is then ‘teased’, danced with and followed around the streets by revellers dressed in white with red or blue scarves and ribbons. The streets are decorated with flags and flowers, with a traditional Maypole at the centre of celebrations. The exact origins of the festival are unknown, but the event is believed to mark the return of spring and celebrate fertility. Obby Oss takes place on 1st May each year (or 2nd May if the 1st falls on a Sunday).

Flora Day, Helston

Flora Day in Helston

Flora Day in Helston. © Copyright Rod Allday and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Helston’s Flora Day has also been celebrated each May for hundreds of years to mark the end of winter and the return of vitality as the trees and flowers spring back to life. Houses and shops are decorated in greenery and floral displays, and smartly dressed couples dance through the streets accompanied by music and merriment. Revellers of all ages join the dancing and street parade, with some entering selected shops and houses to drive out the darkness of winter and welcome in the light of spring. Flora Day takes place on 8th May each year (unless it’s a Sunday or Monday, when the event is moved to the preceding Saturday instead).

Bolster Day, St Agnes

Bolster Day St Agnes

Bolster Day in St Agnes. © Andy Roberts, via Flickr. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

This relatively modern spring festival – only 20 years old – takes place in and around St Agnes over the first May Bank Holiday weekend. It’s a celebration of art and music, and recreates the legend of Bolster the giant who threatened the village and was defeated at Chapel Porth by brave knight Sir Constantine. This colourful event starts with a lantern procession and bonfire on the Saturday evening, followed on Sunday by a parade of the giant Bolster puppet, accompanied by musicians and dancers, through the streets of St Agnes, ending in late afternoon with the giant’s theatrical demise on the cliffs above Chapel Porth.

Golowan Festival and Mazey Day, Penzance

Penzance Mazey Day

Mazey Day in Penzance. © Roy Hughes – geograph.org.uk/p/2952251

This ten day festival celebrates midsummer with a series of art workshops, musical concerts and parties. Central to the celebrations is the traditional Mazey Day parade, which sees a procession of musicians, dancers and puppets and sculptures based on local themes. The colourful festival is Penzance’s biggest cultural event which draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. It takes place each year towards the latter half of June (in 2018 its 15th to 24th June with Mazey Day on Saturday 24th).

Hurling, St Columb Major

This is another ancient Cornish tradition, which takes over the town of St Columb Major on Shrove Tuesday each year. Hurling involves the pursuit of a silver ball through the town’s streets and over surrounding fields, as the two teams attempt to score ‘goals’ by crossing the parish boundaries. This unregulated, often rough, game between the Townsmen and the Countrymen is a traditional Cornish game with similar roots to the game of football.

If you’re visiting Padstow for Obby Oss or looking for a holiday to coincide with a traditional Cornish festival, please check for availability in our self catering cottages and houses.

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