May Day Obby Oss

...ancient Cornwall custom

Every May Day thousands of people pack the streets of little Padstow to participate in and enjoy the traditional ‘Obby Oss’ celebrations.

Reputed to be one of England’s most aged May Day dance traditions, dating back to pagan times, Obby Oss (local dialect for Hobby Horse, if you hadn’t figured it out) celebrates the Celtic sun god Bel and the beginning of summer.

Holidays in Cornwall
The festival itself begins at midnight, with many local revellers up all night.

Unaccompanied singing around the town begins at the Golden Lion Inn and by the time morning comes the town is decorated with flags, flowers and greenery.

Inhabitants of Padstow traditionally dress in white, with family loyalties dictating whether they follow the red original Oss, or the blue peace Oss.

Both Oss' are similar in appearance and perform a dancing ritual, accompanied by drummers and accordions playing a local folk song, around the town. Each Oss is lead by a group of followers as they make their way through the narrow streets and around the harbour.

The festivities start in earnest when the blue oss makes its first appearance from its stable (also based at the Golden Lion Inn), followed by the appearance of the red oss from its home. Both osses are poked and prodded what is known as a ‘teazer’ (sic), and local kids and adults alike take turns dancing with the osses. Celebrations go on all day until the osses finally return to their stables at 10pm.

Exiled Padstonians are said to travel from all over the world to return home for this most exhilarating of days, while the town’s pubs are happy to serve drinks in plastic glasses, enabling punters to wander around town in search of an oss.

The biggest event on the North Cornwall coast, Obby Oss simply has to be seen to be believed. 

Sean Cummins

March 2011


Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015