Cornwall's May Traditions

Places to Go

Cornwall's May Traditions

Traditions run deep here in Cornwall, especially when it comes to celebrations and festivals. Any excuse is a good excuse when it comes to having a good time. May Day brings celebrations in villages and towns up and down the country but I’d like to think that none of them are a patch on the May Days in Cornwall. From closing down an entire town to dance through the streets to fish barbecues by the harbourside, Cornwall has got May Day parties nailed and you really don’t want to miss out.

Four of our favourite May Day celebrations across the county are the Obby Oss in Padstow, Bolster Day in St AgnesSt Ives May Day and Flora Day in Helston. All involve enough festivities to keep you in the party mood for days after. We’ve been waiting all year for these special days so when they arrive the Cornish really like to go all out.

The origins of Padstow’s Obby Oss are hazy. Some say it’s a fertility dance, others will describe it as a deterrent to a French landing many years ago. Most will tell you that the Obby Oss welcomes the summer and is the biggest day in a Padstonian’s calendar. Whatever you choose to believe, the day brings flocks of people to the town so get there early. Watch the red and blue pair of ‘Osses’ emerge from their stable led by the Teazer who guides them through the streets of Padstow with dramatic movements. Behind them follows a colourful procession of dancers, drummers and singers raising their hands and voices in sync to the dance of the Obby Osses.

St Agnes Bolster Day is a quirky celebration of an old Cornish legend about a giant who used to live on the cliffs by St Agnes.

The quirkiest of all May Day celebrations is St Agnes Bolster Day. The retelling of the Cornish legend of Bolster the Giant takes place on the clifftops in St Agnes every year on the 1st May and features amazing giant puppets. Local performers bring the story to life so I'll leave it for them to tell the tale. There's nothing quite like chasing puppets over the Cornwall cliffs then settling down in a pub for a pint or two and lots of celebrations.

A more traditional May Day celebration occurs in St Ives. The winding streets make for the perfect procession road and plenty of people pack in to see the festivities. At Midday join the town in crowning the May Queen and King and their attending Prince and Princess. The town comes alive with maypoles and processions accompanied with food and craft stalls through the streets. Tuck into a fish barbecue on the harbourside while dabbling your toes in the crystal clear waters.

Children dancing in the streets of Helston, Cornwall as part of the Flora Day celebrations.

Flora Day is the most important day of the year for those lucky individuals born and raised in Helston. It usually falls on the 8th May unless that’s a Sunday or Monday which means it’s then arranged the Saturday before. One of our offices is based in Helston so Flora Day is a celebration very close to our hearts. Every house, shop and stall is decorated with flowers the night before. Festivities begin very early in the morning with men and women parading as pairs through the streets wearing their finest summer clothes, followed by children dancing and then a formal dance with ladies and gentleman in all their finery. 

For fun, frolics and plenty of florals, a Cornish May Day is just what you need. Let the sunshine lift your spirits and welcome the summer months in style.

View our holiday cottages available in May.

Daffodils glow in the spring sunshine in Cornwall.

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