Darkie Day / Mummer's Day

Darkie Day / Mummer's Day

It is not just the Mayday Obby Oss festival for which Padstow is famous. Every year on Boxing Day and New Year's Day the townsfolk take to the streets once more for their corresponding winter festival, traditionally known as Darkie Days.

Darkie Days forms part of an ancient tradition of Pagan midwinter festivals that were until quite recently celebrated all over Cornwall between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night. The festivals centred on the practice of guise dancing (also known as goose dancing), which usually involved the performance of a traditional play (known as a Mummer's or Mumming play) whilst wearing a disguise, traditionally a blackened face, which allowed the players to lose their inhibitions and perform outlandishly in return for food or money. The practice of blacking one's face signalled a contrast to the summer festivals, such as the Obby Oss, during which white would be worn to herald the spring.

Is Darkie Day Racist?

Due to the blackened faces and the fact that early last century, in keeping with a craze that swept America, the traditional Cornish folksongs were replaced with Minstrel songs, the festival has come under some scrutiny during the past few decades. In spite of the fact that the police were brought in twice to film the events, and both times declared that there was no evidence of offensive behaviour, the spectacle of an entire town taking to the streets with blackened faces and singing about 'niggers' was understandably deemed by some to be inappropriate. In response, the festival organisers agreed to change the name of the event to Mummers Day (which brings it into alignment with England) and to try to change the songs back to the original Cornish ones.

Meanwhile, other towns in Cornwall who had lost the Mummers Day tradition are currently reviving it. Penzance's Montol festival, which does not feature blackened faces, is a good example.