THE MONTOL FESTIVAL 2023 BRINGS COLOURFUL WEST CORNISH MIDWINTER TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS INTO THE MODERN DAY. IT TAKES PLACE ON THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER 2023 WITH PROCESSIONS, GUISE GUILDS AND MASKS…
Much of Cornwall’s cultural past is Celtic and pagan in origin. It’s full of folklore, myth and legend. So that ancient past (and we mean ancient!) is about as Christian as someone claiming that a pasty represents the body of Christ. Wind the clock forward to the modern day, however, and it follows that an event that’s inherently Celtic can’t also be an event that’s Christian, right?
Wrong. And massively wrong if you subscribe to that idea, in fact, because isn’t Christmas itself a wonderful mix of ancient pagan traditions with the more modern stories of Christ and St Nicholas? And isn’t Cornwall itself a land that’s built on strong Celtic and Christian ideals that so often go hand-in-hand too?
What we’re trying to say here is that a handful of traditional Cornish festivals combine the Duchy’s Celtic roots with its Christian ideals to great, colourful, exciting effect. And Montol 2023 has to be one of the best examples of this marriage of cultures, customs and traditions. It happens during every winter solstice (which, incidentally, is also the feast of St Thomas the Apostle) on 21 December every year in Penzance.
The Montol Festival began in 2007, organised by the same people who run the town’s Golowan Festival during every summer. Over the past nine years, though, the Cornish Culture Association charity has been behind the annual festival, which is a revival of traditional Cornish midwinter customs and traditions that stretch back for hundreds of years. Expect masks, folklore and a welcoming atmosphere.
Of course, the Montol Festival is focused on Penzance and the sorts of Christmas and midwinter customs that used to take place in and around the Cornish town. It’s actually traditionally a six-day arts and community festival but its final day, called Montol Eve, on 21 December is its big day of celebration. Activities in the run-up to Montol Eve include lantern and mask-making workshops around the town alongside carol services and traditional Mummers plays.
THIS IS THE RUNDOWN FOR MONTOL EVE 2023 ON THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER 2023:
4pm — The Sundown Procession begins in Causewayhead, which is just off Alverton Road.
6pm — The Main Procession starts from the top of Chapel Street.
6.20pm – The Midwinter Fire blazes at the Princess May Recreation Ground. Plenty of dancing and music abounds.
7pm — The Guise Guilds roam all over town over the next couple of hours. These groups are based on the guild groups from the early 19th century and there’s always some grand period costumes and a central theme to each guild, especially when it comes to the likes of The Splendid League of Physicians and The Ancient Guild of the Illuminated Sprout. They perform acts and enter a range of establishments.
9.30pm — Carol singing takes place outside the Union Hotel in Chapel Street. Torches are also lit for the final procession.
10pm — The Late Night Procession begins in Chapel Street and ends with dancing in and around The Quay.
SEE A GREAT VIDEO ON THE FESTIVAL HERE, THANKS TO VIDEOGRAPHER CHRIS TRE: HERE
Enjoy the Montol 2023 festival in Penzance on Thursday 21 December 2023. Prepare for all sorts of costumes and performers alongside traditional guide beasts, folk musicians, storytellers and ‘Obby ‘Osses. Expect them all to be out and about from midday, especially around Causewayhead, Market Jew Street and Green Market.
For families: the daytime is really family-friendly. But after dark? Well, you’ll have to see for yourselves at the dark, traditional and wonderful Montol Festival!