Held in Penzance during the third week in December, the Montol Festival celebrates the winter solstice. Whilst most people around this time of year have their thoughts set on the Christmas festivities, the people of Penzance spend most of December preparing for this unique event.
The Montol Festival is based on ancient Cornish Traditions
It is obvious that a great deal of time and effort is put into the Montol Festival and you could easily be forgiven for thinking that the people of Penzance had been celebrating this event for hundreds of years. Although it is an ancient festival, it has only recently been revived and celebrated.It is actually based on ancient Cornish traditions and the locals really have embraced everything about it, making this particular festival one which is planned and looked forward to throughout the year.
The Montol Festival runs for six days from Monday to Saturday during the third week in December. It is a fun arts and community festival celebrating the Winter solstice along with many Cornish traditions such as Mummers plays, a Ceilidh and Guise dancing when everyone wears a guise or mask.
It culminates on Montol Eve, December 21st, with two parade of lanterns, known as “Rivers of Fire” and beacons being lit all over the town. There is the ceremonial chalking and burning of the “Mock”, a Cornish Yule Log. A stick man is chalked on the log before it is set alight, as a symbolic end to the old season and the birth of the new. The evening ends with street dancing.
Rivers of Fire
The theme behind the Montol Festival is the death and the rebirth of the sun. People carrying lanterns converge at the highest point of the town which is an ancient fortress called Lescudjack Hill Fort. The Lord of Misrule proceeds to set the main beacon alight and after some brief celebrations all of the people make their way down the hill, thus giving the effect of ‘Rivers of Fire’.
Both locals and visitors to Penzance are invited to dress up for the event in masks and what is known as ‘mock posh’ clothing as detailed in the history books. The Montol Festival is quite spectacular and there is something about it all that gives it a lovely relaxed atmosphere. There is an excitement in the air which is hard to describe and it is not difficult to understand why the mere mention of Montol always brings a smile to the faces of the locals.
Torchlit Procession at the Montol Festival
It is sometimes the case that festivals such as this which are held up and down the country are very much regarded as being something for the locals. Not here in Penzance though; everyone is made more than welcome, even more so if you make the effort to don a mask or dress up in some other way. It now attracts more and more people to attend the event from further afield.
Although the Montol Festival is centred around the evening events, the day actually starts off with a Farmer’s Market at St Johns Hall. Various other events go on throughout the day and if you are looking for an early night you will be disappointed as the main torch lit procession doesn’t start until 10:15pm and there is a lot of partying to take place after that. There is an earlier procession for families at 6pm.
The Montol Festival really is a wonderful event held just before Christmas. If you ever get the chance to attend, it is highly recommended as a chance to do something uniquely Cornish.
December is usually all about Christmas, so it’s fun to do something different. Do you know of any events such as this which celebrate cultural traditions which may otherwise die out? We’d love to hear about them!