Cornwall arguably has some of the best and most unique festivals in the world.
Any excuse to organize a festival, we will take it. From celebrations of local music, community, art, food, beer, film and dance, there are so many exciting events that take place in Cornwall each year.
Throughout the year, historical and community festivals are held in various parts of the region and some are quite unique to our county.
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From those who welcome or say goodbye to the seasons, to those who celebrate Cornish legends, each has a special story to tell.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the biggest, best and most unusual festivals on the Cornish calendar.
To say the Golowan Festival is a huge spectacle is an understatement.
Every June Penzance hosts its annual Midsummer Festival and visitors can see people lining the streets in unusual costumes and carrying handcrafted sculptures based on local themes, across the town centre.
According to the Visit Cornwall website, in the late 1800s Golowan was one of the last summer festivals held in Cornwall. Traditionally, blazing tar barrels paraded through the city streets and bonfires were lit on the surrounding hills that could be seen all around Mounts Bay and beyond.
In the 1890s the authorities in Penzance banned the festival due to the growing fire risk and the centuries-old festival died out. However, the festival was then revived in 1991 and is now said to be the most colorful community festival in the South West, blending Cornish tradition with contemporary imagery and ritual.
Spanning three days in June, the Golowan Festival is a community celebration of the traditional midsummer St. John’s Day and features a packed program of performers celebrating music, performing arts and theater .
Flora Day in Helston
Flora Day is another beloved annual celebration, which usually takes place on May 8 – unless the date falls on a Sunday or Monday, in which case it takes place the previous Saturday.
Helston town center is decorated with greenery and flower arrangements from the surrounding countryside and everyone is dressed in the finest traditional dress, with gentlemen wearing shirts and ties and ladies in light summer dresses .
When the bass drum hits the first beat of the dance at 7 a.m., the spirit of the day is lifted and the celebrations begin. Couples and children roam the streets and enter select homes and shops to chase away the darkness of winter and bring in the light of spring.
The colorful spectacle, known as Hal an Tow, also tells the story of Helston with the characters singing the challenge of the Spanish Armada, the English patron saint, St. George and the fight between St. Michael and the devil .
For anyone outside of Cornwall, Flora Day celebrations might seem a bit strange, but for us the festival has been a key event on the calendar for hundreds of years. But what is it?
The Spring Festival is designed to celebrate the end of winter and mark the arrival of new vitality and fertility with trees and flowers bursting with life. The traditional dance is also believed to be linked to ancient spring festivals that take place throughout Europe.
Padstow Obby Oss
One of Cornwall’s most popular spring events, Padstow May Day – better known as Obby’ Oss – is the biggest event on the town’s calendar. It is said that tens of thousands of people flock to Padstow from all over the world every year to take part in the celebrations.
The exact origins of the unique Cornish ‘Obby’ Oss are unknown but, like other festivals that mark the start of spring, it is believed to be linked to the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane.
Some believe it has its roots in pagan times, others that it is a rainmaker, a symbol of fertility or a deterrent against a possible landing by the French. centuries ago.
The festival begins at midnight on May Eve when townspeople gather outside the Golden Lion Inn to sing the “Night Song”.
In the morning, the city is dressed in greenery and flowers arranged around the maypole.
The excitement begins with the appearance of the ‘Obby’ Osses – otherwise known as Recreational Horses – which take separate routes through the town and are followed by a procession of dancers and musicians.
Driven by sidekicks known as “Teasers”, each wears a mask and a black, underwired cape under which they attempt to grab young girls as they run through town.
Throughout the day, the two parades, led by the “MC” in a top hat and decorated baton, followed by a band of accordions and drums, then the ‘Oss and the Teaser, with a crowd of people, the “Mayers” – all singing the “morning song”. – pass along the streets of the city.
Finally, late in the evening, the two ‘osses meet again, at the maypole, before returning to their respective stables where the crowd sings the death of ‘Obby ‘Oss, until his resurrection the following day before May.
Another slightly odd festival for anyone outside of Cornwall, the Montol Festival is a community event in Penzance, which celebrates the winter solstice, Cornish mid-winter traditions of the past and customs associated with old Christmas. . The festival culminates in Montol Eve on December 21 each year.
The festival started in 2007 and, run by the Cornish Culture Association, has become one of the highlights of the year for Penzance.
Hundreds of people line the streets each year, dressed in mock costumes and masks during the celebrations.
In 2021, festival-goers were able to enjoy a spectacular show of fire juggling, dances around the fire, live traditional music and thematic shows.
Every year on the last Saturday in April, Camborne celebrates local genius and inventor Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) and the town’s importance as a major player in Cornwall’s ancient mining industry.
The streets host local trade stalls, choirs, marching bands, buskers, musicians and dancers, as well as live theater and an impressive display of vintage vehicles, model displays and fairground rides.
When the celebrations start in the morning, hundreds of local school children traditionally dressed as traditional Bal Maidens and Miners dance through the town centre, followed by adults dressed in Cornish black and gold.
The day ends with the parade of steam engines and the mayor of Camborne salutes the statue of Trevithick in front of the town library.
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