This coming week, Penzance will celebrate an integral part of the winter season as the Montol Festival takes place on the evening of the Winter Solstice, 21st December.
The event is a revival of several Cornish midwinter celebrations traditionally practiced in Penzance and the surrounding area. The date is historically the feast of St Thomas the Apostle.
Guise Dancing forms the centre-piece of the celebrations and is an elaborate dance with people disguising their identities using masks, make-up and costumes. Historically people taking part would walk around towns or villages going to houses and pubs to entertain using music and Christmas carols. Conversely the music may be used to evoke moods which may be dark.
There are parallels in the elaborate masks used during the Montol Festival and those seen in traditional Venetian carnival. Other examples of masking can be seen in the form of animal faces or distortions of a human face.
This Cornish Cultural Association are organising this year’s event, and are offering people the opportunity to make costumes, masks and lanterns at their pop up shop in Causewayhead. This location will also provide people with the opportunity to learn some of the traditional dances linked to the event. On the day itself, Market Jew Street will be lined with stalls and entertainment. From 4pm the festival kicks off properly with a Sundown procession from the top of Causewayhead led by the Raffidy Dumitz Band, followed an hour later by Fire Performers outside Market House, with the main performance at 5:30pm in Chapel Street. From 6:00pm, the main Montol procession, led by Raffidy Dumitz, Bagas Crowd and the Keen Sham Town band with massed guisers flowing down towards the Princess May Recreation Ground. Half an hour later Tamsys Montol will occur at the Recreation Ground. The Admiral Benbow pub sees the location of the Midwinter Revels featuring the Guise Guilds at 7:30pm. Finally, at 10pm, the Chalking of the Mock will take place. During this event, a Mock or Cornish Yule has a stick man chalked on. This is said to represent the old year and the birth of the new. The Lord of Misrule then declares “According to our tradition this represents the end of the old and the beginning of the new”. The Mock is then burnt.