The Penzance event that celebrates the shortest day of the year is unlike anything you’ve been to before
The midwinter solstice was celebrated in the usual wonderfully odd fashion this evening (Tuesday December 21) as the ever-popular Montol made its return.
With the official event cancelled in 2020, due to the pandemic, the Penzance festival – where masks have been worn since its inception – was an eccentric joy to behold as revellers paraded through the town.
The Montol Festival is a community event celebrating the midwinter solstice, Cornish midwinter traditions of the past, and customs associated with Old Christmas. The festival culminates in Montol Eve on the 21st of December every year.
The festival began in 2007 and, run by the Cornish Culture Association, has become one of the highlights of the year for Penzance.
As the light began to fade in the afternoon, Montol festivities got underway with The Sundown Procession at 4pm, which started at the top of Causewayhead and ended on Chapel Street.
Following some fire juggling and a spectacular display from one of the guilds, the main procession took place at 6pm. With a huge number of costumed and illuminated band members, Guise Guilds and individuals, led by three different osses, the group set off from Chapel Street parading to Princess May Recreation Ground, where a bonfire was lit.
Following dancing around the fire, the festivities moved from the field back into town, where the Guise Guilds roamed Penzance going to various establishments with themed performances. These Guild groups take their inspiration from descriptions of similarly-named groups from early in the 19th century. The present-day guilds are still based on the tradition of friends getting together in small groups, and producing costumes linked to themes.
Some of the regular Guise Guilds are The Ancient Company of the Corn-Market Revellers; The Glorious Company of the Egyptian House; The Splendid League of Physicians; The Supremes Guise Guild of Misrule and The Ancient Guild of the Illuminated Sprout.
The final procession was due to set off at 10pm, down the historic street to the next bonfire where the traditional Cornish custom of Chalking the Mock will be performed, followed by more dancing.
This year’s Montol Festival was dedicated to the memory of John Dudding, who sadly died earlier this year, and was an integral part of the event and a friend to many.