Friday, May 01, 2009

Summer is a-comin' today

The Temperance Horse

Summer is a-comin' is the "powerful" May song which dominates the May Day celebrations in Padstow, Cornwall. The Padstow Hobby Horse ('Obby 'Oss') festival takes place every year to drive out winter and welcome in spring. The originally pagan celebration (Beltane) normally (see below) starts on the eve of April 30th and proceeds for the duration of May Day. This kind of tradition is said to go back to at least the 16th century (cf here), and in Padstow, there is the 'Old 'Oss', and, since the late 19th century, its rival, called the 'Blue Ribbon Horse', or 'The Temperance Horse', and more recently 'Peace Horse'.
The temperance movement was "...trying to discourage the consumption of alcohol associated with the "old" 'oss followers. After the first world war the imperative of temperance was lost, and the 'oss became known as the Peace 'Oss. Each 'oss has a "stable" (in the case of the Old 'Oss, the Golden Lion Inn and the Blue Ribbon 'Oss, the Institute), from which they emerge at the start of the day's proceedings and retire at the end. Some time in the late afternoon the 'osses may meet at the maypole and dance together" (quoted from here).
Either horse is led
by a teaser who carries a stick or a club, and followed by their supporters, dressed in white and their appropriate colour, red or blue, dancing and generally making a racket with accordions and drums. (See here and here for more descriptions and the song lyrics).

The photograph above, of the
Blue 'Oss, was taken a couple of years ago, when, much to our annoyance, the festivities weren't held on May 1st, because it fell on a Sunday. Luckily, we were staying closeby, at Sandymouth, and were able to come back later. My BH, already miffed that his birthday isn't celebrated in style in the UK anyway - half the world (1) celebrate May 1st in its modern day re-incarnation as Labour Day, or International Workers' Day - later had the chance to bemoan the fact that moving a festival, which is essentially pagan, was if nothing else farcical, when he was interviewed by local radio. (They swiftly moved on, and we don't think they broadcast it!)

Right, we didn't dance with witches on the Blocksberg (2) or into May (3) last night, we didn't go all orange for Koninginnedag (4) (like we did last year in Amsterdam), and neither did we 'bring in the may' (hawthorne, sycamore, rowan or mountain ash') this morning, bathed our faces in dew, or danced around a maypole, but we did listen to the Padstow May song!

Happy May Day, wherever you are and whatever it means to you!

80 countries, according the Wikipedia
(2) Blocksberg = Brocken = the mountain, where, according to legends, the witches congregate for WALPURGISNACHT.
Tanz in den Mai = dancing into May; still popular in Germany, I believe
(4) = Queen's Day in the Netherlands, a huge festival, when everything in Amsterdam seems to be painted Orange!


Temperance said...

That is a cool bit of trivia and sounds like a great time.

SarahKate said...

How cool! We were moving into our new flat in Winchester on May Day, so no celebrations for us this year. Perhaps next year we'll make it to Cornwall.

Zabeena said...

Yeah, trivia is what I live for!!!