Montol, what on earth is that? For those not native to West Cornwall, Montol is a strange word. You hear it muttered like a dark secret from November onwards. No one wants to talk directly about it, but everyone knows about it and all will attend. On the face of it, it all sounds pretty impenetrable, a closed society and really quite sinister.
So What Is Montol All About?
With its roots firmly planted in ancient Cornish and pagan traditions, it is a rather flamboyant, almost anarchical mid Winter festival. Montol is the Cornish word for Winter solstice, which is on the 21st December, also know as Montol Eve in Penzance.
The original Montol festival was held annually up until the 1930s when it sadly fizzled out. It was revived in 2007 and gets bigger and better each year, in a slightly crazy, wonderfully Cornish way.
There are lots of events in the run up to Montol Eve, such as mask making and live music events. However, the main event is Montol Eve, on the 21st December. The celebrations go on throughout the day, but things really come to life once the sun sets. The darkness gives drama and intrigue to the Guiser processions which carry lanterns and torches and wear masks and traditional costumes.
Montol Line Up 21st December 2018
The team behind Montol would love as many people as possible to dress up in mock formal and masks and partake in this annual event.
12noon Street entertainers and market stalls in town.
4pm The Guise and Children’s Sundown Procession which will start at the top of Causewayhead and end on Chapel Street.
6pm ‘Lord Of Misrule’ chosen, followed by the procession leaving from Chapel Street. The sun effigy will be burnt at the Princess May Recreation Ground.
7pm – 8pm The Guise Guilds will choose their Masters and will roam establishments with different themed performances.
10pm The procession leaves from Lloyds Bank to The Barbican area picking up Guise Beasts along the way and culminating with a winding serpent dance to The Admiral Benbow where the Lord of Misrule’s Reception will be held.
Rivers Of Fire
Mid Winter festivals are all about celebrating the death and rebirth of the sun and Montol is no exception. 21st December is the shortest day of the year. Thankfully the days start getting longer from this point until Mid Summer (Golowan). The torches and lantern processions and the lighting of the Midwinter fire emulate the sun and make “rivers of fire” in the darkness.
A huge part of the Montol Festival is based around Guise dancers and musicians. They are loud, colourful and pretty raucous and create quite a spectacle. The guisers dress in masks to disguise their identity (which is where to word guise comes from). This allows them to perform in an outlandish manner without being recognised in the town.
There are a number of “beasts” who are pretty scary creatures that form part of the Guisers. The Green Man, Old Ned the Crow, Skulldugger and Night Mare. These characters can usually be found in the pub, the Admiral Benbow and they come out for the 10pm procession.
Lord Of Misrule
The Lord Of Misrule is the Mock Leader of Montol. He or she is chosen every year from among the masked revellers. They must then lead the processions and light the Midwinter fire.
The Chalking Of The Mock
The Mock is the Cornish Yule Log. This takes centre stage of the 10pm procession where it is ceremonially “chalked” with a chalk stick figure of a man and then burnt.
How Can I Get Involved
During the run up to 21st December there are lots of community events and making mask sessions. On Montol Eve, come along and watch, bring a mask and costume and join in the processions and crowds. It is a very friendly, slightly mad, pretty haphazard festival where everyone is welcome and all can join in.
What Should I Dress Up In?
Think Venetian carnival crossed with Steam Punk pagan morris dancers and you will be on the right track! Actually pretty much anything goes, except maybe superhero costumes!