Obby Oss

Obby Oss festival

Padstow's Obby Oss celebration is one of the oldest surviving festivals in the UK, famous for both its age and its uniqueness. Thought to have its origins in Pagan fertility rites, the Obby Oss is primarily a celebration of Beltane, the Celtic feast which honours the approach of summer.

Every year, in preparation for the first of May (unless this falls on a Sunday, in which case the festival takes place on Monday 2nd), Padstow's narrow streets and ancient harbour are extravagantly decorated with flowers, flags and greenery, the focus of which is a tall and colourful May Pole. What follows is a grand procession, usually attended by thousands, in which two groups of dancers, accompanied by drums, triangles and marching accordion players, make their way through the town, one of each team dressed in a stylized recreation of a horse and wearing a striking and faintly terrifying mask. These are the Old and Blue Ribbon Osses, both of whom have stables from which they emerge in the morning and to which they return at night.

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Padstow - Red Flags
Obby Oss - Red Flags

Led by teaser and trailed by crowds of followers dressed in white with red and blue sashes and a number of junior Osses operated by children, the two main Osses pretend to try to catch maidens as they pass through the narrow streets. This bizarre dance continues all day long until, at midnight, the townsfolk join together to sing Padstow's unique 'May Song';

'Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For Summer is a come unto day,
And wither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
'

full May Song here »

The Blue Ribbon Oss, also called the Peace Oss is the newer of the two, created in the 19th century by members of a temperance group trying to discourage the over-consumption of alcohol during the proceedings by the Old Oss' followers. Today, family loyalties decide whether an individual follows the Old Oss, whose stable is the Golden Lion Inn, or the Blue Ribbon Oss, whose stable is the Institute.