If you’ve never been to Flora Day you can be forgiven for wondering what’s going on. Hundreds of couples decked out in their finest, dancing through the houses, re-enactments of St George slaying the dragon and the sound of lively music drifting through the flower adorned streets, it can all be a bit bewildering at first.
Like many of Cornwall’s unique traditions, the day has a rich and vibrant history that is part myth and part legend. The origins have been hotly disputed over the years, some saying it’s a Christian festival and others saying it all came about when a dragon dropped a stone on the town and the locals took to the streets to celebrate their survival.
Regardless of how it all started, Flora Day is Helston’s own way of welcoming in and showing thanks that spring has come to the county. Doors are flung open so the winter can be chased out by the dancers and the streets and buildings are festooned with bluebells and green leafy branches.
The festivities started at the Guildhall with the Early Morning dance. These enthusiastic early birds were dressed in spring frocks and shirts and ties to mark the start of a full day of dances and theatrical re-enactments throughout the town. From 7am to 5pm four different troupes (including the energetic Children’s Dancers) skipped through the town led by the Helston Town Band and followed by the huge crowd. A grand precession indeed. Between dances, a host of stalls and a fair ground kept the crowds well-entertained.
The beat of the bass drum began smack on 12pm and a wave of applause spread through the crowd, growing in volume as the Helston Town Band broke into the first notes of the “Faddy” song to start the famous Midday Dance. A highlight of the day for many, the Midday Dance is performed by top-hat-and-tail-wearing gents and ladies in their best gowns. In an instant it seemed the entire route was lined with excited spectators, standing on walls, sitting on shoulders, leaning out of windows and even hanging out of trees to try to get a look.
Couples danced their carefully rehearsed steps as the precession wove its way through pretty much every street in Helston’s town centre.
You could say the Helston Town Band were the real heroes of the day. By the time the final dance ended after 5pm they had marched the streets of Helston four times, certainly deserving a few pints of Spingo later that evening.
For the tens of thousands of visitors who come each year and the generations of Helstonians who take part, Heston Flora Day is one of the liveliest, fun-filled and unique festivals in the Cornish calendar and has put Helston firmly on the map for anyone who loves a good knees-up with a large helping of tradition.