Padstow has its own unique way of celebrating May Day. On 1st May each year, the locals, known as Padstonians, and visitors celebrate Obby Oss. It’s a day of street festivals, folk singing and dancing accompanied by musicians, accordions and drums.
The Obby Oss is a folk custom that’s unique to Padstow and one of the oldest surviving festivals in the UK. And its not unusual to see 30,000 people crammed into the quaint harbour town of Padstow
Obby Oss history
The exact origins of Obby Oss are not clear but some evidence suggests that the May Day celebrations date back to the 16th century and earlier. Some believe it has its roots in pagan times, others that it’s a rain maker, a fertility symbol or a deterrent to a possible landing by the French centuries ago. However, the earliest mention of Obby Oss in Padstow is 1803.
Let the fun begin
The celebrations around the town start at midnight on May eve (30th April): the night before 1st day of May. Starting outside the Golden Lion Inn, in the centre of Padstow participants sing the Night Song. Only families who have lived in Padstow for at least two generations are permitted to take part in the processions.
The town is dressed with greenery and flowers. The ‘Obby Oss’ possession and festivities centers around two Obby Osses (Hobby Horses) – the Old Oss and the Blue Ribbon Oss. Each of the gyrating Osses is then ‘teased’, danced with and followed around the streets by revellers dressed in white with red or blue scarves and ribbons. There is a traditional Maypole at the centre of celebrations.
Throughout the day the two parades, led by an MC in a top hat and decorated stick, followed by a band of accordians and drums pass through the streets. Finally, in the late evening, the two ‘osses meet, at the maypole, before returning to their respective stables where the crowd sings of the ‘Obby ‘Oss death, until its resurrection the following May Eve.
For a real sense of what Obby Oss looks like, take a look at this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpCFHFmAmS8
As you can see Obby Oss is incredibly popular with locals and visitors alike. If you want to experience Obby Oss first hand, the best advice is to plan ahead. The celebrations are always on May 1st each year, unless this is a Sunday, in which case the festival will be held on 2nd May.