To outside eyes Montol can look impenetrable or even a bit sinister and there is still massive confusion among some members of the community about it’s very nature, not understanding its origins or misrepresenting the entire experience. So what exactly is the Montol? First of all the name itself, it is on the Teer Ha Tavaz website that we find the reference to “Montol” being Cornish for Midwinter Solstice. In the inaugural year of the festival a choice of name was sought and Montol was chosen over the more well known “Chewidden Thursday”. If you click here it will take you through to the Teer Ha Tavas page and you will be able to see the page in question.
Montol is in fact a celebration of the Christmas and Midwinter traditions common in Cornwall right up to the 1930s, a focus for the amazing cultural heritage of the Winter season in this special place. What you see at Montol therefore was accepted as normality at Winter feast days, especially the 12 days of Christmas. The most obvious tradition being celebrated is that of Guise Dancing. Guise dancing was exceptionally popular in Penzance in the early 19th Century, some even compared the costumed splendour in Penzance to the Venice Carnival, a truly amazing accolade. Despite its name, Guise Dancing encompasses a wide tradition of disguise and misrule. Dance, drama, music. processions all have a place here and you will see all these strands at Montol. Guise dancing requires its celebrants to be in “maximum disguise” a disguise that consists of a mask or veil to cover the face and a costume that reflects the theme of “Topsy Turvey”. Poor people mocking the rich by adopting their costume, men sometimes dressed as women and visa versa and the very rich adopting coloured rags and ribbons in imitation of the lower elements of society.At Montol you can see all of these.
During the proceedings of the evening there are other Cornish customs on display. The “Mock” or Cornish Yule Log forms the centre of the 10pm procession at Montol, it was and is ceremonially marked with a chalk stick figure of a man and then burnt. It is at the 10pm procession that you will see all of the “Guise Beasts” together, the Green Man (based on a tradition from St Ives), Old Ned the Crow, Skulldugger, Ramesses, Ratael and ultimately “Kasek Nos” the “Night Mare” who emerges from the Admiral Benbow at 10pm. These “beasts” were common among the Guise dancers of old, some comedic and some scary.
You will hear at Montol the singing of Carols, some unfamiliar to the modern ear, that once were the very root and marrow of a Cornish Christmas. From the tunes of Merrit to Wassail songs, you will hear them at Montol.
Everyone who attends Montol is encouraged to dress the part, process with us, and be a part of the festival. So what is Montol? Montol is the celebration of the wonderful anarchic and colourful traditions of the Midwinter here in Cornwall, and Cornwall is a better place for it.