Celebrations in Cornwall
The cultural calendar of Cornwall is punctuated by numerous historic and community festivals and celebrations...
May Day in Cornwall
May Day celebrations begin a month of festivals, shows and fun-filled occasions. It’s a time of year when communities congregate in city halls, village greens and town squares to mark the longer days and revel in the best of the season.
Although May Day falls on the first day of the month, the traditional celebrations and festivities happen at any point during the first weekend of May.
This timely occasion was chosen as it marked the date when most of the ‘seed sowing’ had been completed, making it a convenient time to give farm labourers a day off from their duties.
Interestingly, taking off the first Monday of the month as a Bank Holiday only started back in 1978. As the May Day festivities had been enjoyed by many communities throughout the centuries, the Labour Government at the time decided to mark the occasion, by granting the first Monday in May as a Bank Holiday, giving families a day off from work and school.
Over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, many towns and villages celebrate with communal fetes, traditional festivals and shows.
Often, the celebrations are quirky affairs featuring Morris dancing, Maypole dancing and novel processions displaying unique characters to the town where they are taking place. Streets and parks are often dressed in bright flags, flowers and greenery, and live music from town bands, teams of drummers or accordion players, all contribute to a lively, convivial atmosphere.
A key part of the May Day celebrations is the maypole, which is placed at the hub of the action, bringing the community together.
Local primary school children often participate in the Maypole dancing, which involves a fun dance using coloured ribbons that are eventually woven into a pretty pattern around the pole.
Pairs of boys and girls, positioned at the base of the pole, and holding the end of a ribbon, weave in and around each other, with the boys going one way and girls going the other.
As for May celebrations in the county, here are some of the best…
St Ives May Day
The Harbour, St Ives, TR26 2NH
An event that dates back to 1573. At 1pm the parade will be at the harbour with Maypole dances, traditional Cornish dancing and live music. Call 01736 448066.
Padstow May Day
North Quay, Padstow, PL28 8AF
May Day is the biggest day in Padstow’s calendar. See the arrival of the two "Osses", one red and one blue that will dance through the streets. Plus, plenty of street entertainment and live music. Call 01841 533449.
Saltash May Fair
From 10am, Longstone Park, Saltash, PL12
A traditional annual May fair packed with community activities, Maypole dancing, children’s entertainment, live music and a variety of stalls. Call 0131 463 8368.
West Looe May Fayre
From 10am, West Looe Quayside, PL13
Looe’s traditional spring fayre. The procession will start from the bridge. Plus, there will be dancing around the Maypole, stalls, fun entertainment, competitions and games. Call 01503 262072.
Black Prince Flower Boat May Day Procession
Millbrook, Kingsand and Cawsand villages, Near Liskeard, PL10 1AW
A colourful traditional Cornish festival. See the Black Prince Flower Boat go through the villages of Millbrook, Kingsand and Cawsand. With celebrations along the way such as Maypole dancing, Morris dancing, a village fete, amusements and more. Call 01752 823635.
Helston Flora Day
Helston, TR13 8ER
Featuring the famous celebration Flora dance which will start at 7am. At 8.30am the mummers' play, Hal-an-Tow, will be performed at several venues throughout the town. The children’s dance is at 10am and the evening dance at 5pm. Call 01326 572082.