May Day in St Ives – Traditional Cornish holidays

Winter has now been officially banished!

Or it least it should be now that the town has held its May Day festival. An ever-popular annual event, the May Day Festival starts at the St Ives Guildhall in front of an intrigued and amused crowd who gather to enjoy singing, dancing and the lively local atmosphere.

This year, despite the slightly grey weather, locals and visitors alike turned out in full force, with St Ives Community Choir setting the mood with traditional local folk songs.

To mark the start of the celebrations, and to get the attention of the crowd, “May Horns” were proudly and loudly blown by two local boys. One to say goodbye to winter and the other to say a warm hello to spring.

Next, the St Ives Mayor Linda Taylor asked if there were any girls who might like to be a queen for a day. Needless to say, there was a rush of enthusiastic, flower-adorned candidates vying for the coveted role of “May Queen”. One lucky little girl graciously accepted the crown with the rest more than happy to be proclaimed “May Princesses”. When it came time to crown the “May King” shyness came over the boys and only one brave lad stepped forward to take up the regal appointment. With everyone now assembled, little hollowed-out twigs called “Pee Whips” were blown by the royal family to the enjoyment of the crowd.

The famous May Pole dance was next on the agenda. If you’ve never seen the dance before it can look slightly confusing but there’s a method to the madness. Each girl holds a coloured ribbon and dances to a traditional May Day tune played by Hayle Town Band. The dancers then interweave with each other with the result being a gloriously colourful plait of ribbons. To really showcase their talent the girls then reverse the dance to undo the plait.

With the band merrily leading the way, the dancers and May royalty made their way to the St Ives Lifeboat House for the second bout of dancing which, if possible, seemed even livelier than the first!

As the parade danced across the harbour front the windows and doors of cafés, shops, and holiday cottages were flung open so every excited spectator could get a look. The final dance took place on the Sloop Slipway before the entire procession marched back to the St Ives Guildhall to draw a close to the celebration.

A nationwide tradition that started in 1573 and continues in towns and villages across the country to this day, St Ives puts its own spin on the celebration of May Day involving the local community.

Share this article with friends and family