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Cornwall’s Hobby Horse

By Linda Tancs

May Day is the biggest day of the year in Padstow, a tiny fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall, England. Reputedly the oldest folk festival in the country, the Obby Oss Festival celebrated there involves two separate processions making their way around the town, each featuring a person dressed as a hobby horse (‘obby ‘oss). The origins of the Cornish celebration are unknown, but it is believed to relate to the Celtic festival of Beltane, the spring festival dedicated to the return of the Celtic sun god, Bel. In each procession, the ‘oss is followed by a teaser (who taunts the ‘oss) and many dancers. In the older procession, the participants wear white outfits with red sashes and conduct themselves with much revelry. In the early 20th century, the temperance movement instigated a second ‘oss, characterized by more sober participants wearing white outfits with blue sashes. The two processions parade independently until late afternoon, when everyone gathers at the maypole in the town square.

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