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About Cornwall

The Old 'Oss entertains the huge crowds

Obby Oss Day

Reputed to be the oldest dance festival in the country, Obby Oss Day celebrates the Celtic festival of Beltane - dedicated to the return of the Celtic sun god Bel, that causes the crops to grow and the hours of daylight to lengthen.

Thousands of people make the journey to Padstow on the 1st May to celebrate one of the oldest May Day traditions in the country.

The Day celebrates the Celtic festival of Beltane - The spring festival dedicated to the return of the Celtic sun god Bel, that causes the crops to grow and the hours of daylight to lengthen.

The colours mixed with the passion of Padstownians makes the traditional 'Obby 'Oss celebrations a guaranteed memorable occasion.

Children and adults beat out the May Day Song
Beating out the May Day song

Padstownians travel across the world to be back home for the celebrations. Some revellers in the town are up all night due to the traditional midnight start.

The Chairman of the Padstow Old Cornwall Society, Rev Barry Kinsman, says it is a very special day.

"It is a celebration that is totally spontaneous," he says. "It's like summer is bursting into life. The whole community is vibrant today and very much alive."

As the sun rises over Padstow on 1st May each year the streets will busy with people putting the finishing touches to shop windows choosing colours to support their chosen 'Oss.

"It's like summer is bursting into life. The whole community is vibrant today and very much alive."
Rev Barry Kinsman

The old streets, rich in history, will be ablaze with bluebells, forget-me-nots, cowslips, and sycamore twigs.

Around mid morning on May Day each year the children will be getting ready for their special dance which takes place before the main 11am dance.

Early in the morning on the 1st May the streets of Padstow come alive with the traditional May Day song:

Unite and unite let us all unite

For summer is acome unto day

And whither we are going we will all unite

In the merry morning of May.

The children from Padstow's schools will be beating away on their drums providing the all important rhythm for the Children's 'Oss. The youngsters enthusiasm continues through until 10am.

The tension starts to mount again mid-morning for the appearance of the Blue 'Oss also known as the Peace 'Oss. The Peace 'Oss is led by a teaser and many dancers. They dress in white with blue sashes showing their support for the 'Oss.

Flowers in the hair in Padstow
Flowers in the hair for Obby Oss.

One hour later the Old 'Oss emerges to massive cheers from the crowd.

The 'Obby Oss' looks like a big black caped animal - thought to represent a stallion - with a strange mask and snapping jaws. The Pagan dance and the rhythm of the drum is quite hypnotic.

The 'Obby Oss' is led on by a 'Teaser' who dances around the 'Oss' and prods him with a special padded stick. On its route the 'Oss sometimes drags women and girls under its dark costume in quite a graphic attempt to portray a fertility rite. It used to be said that "if you were caught beneath the veil that you would be pregnant within the year".

BBC Radio Cornwall's Martin Bailie will be presenting his programme live from Padstow on May 1st. Come along and join him.

last updated: 01/05/07
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