Montol occurs on the 21st of December every year in Penzance. The Montol festival was started in 2007 to revive and preserve many of the unique Cornish customs associated with Christmas and Midwinter . The name “Montol” or An Vontol means “Midwinter solstice”, according to the Cornish language site Teer Ha Tavaz.  This is taken from the work of Edward Lhuyd, the great recorder of the Cornish language in its modern or later stage.

A page mentioning the word "Montol" from Edward Lhuyd's Archaeologia Britannica'

A record of the word “Montol” from 1700. Edward Lhuyd: online transcript of ‘Archaeologia Britannica’. National Library of Wales

The festival shares universal themes found at this time of year. Light in darkness, new from from Old and also encourages people to view public spaces in Winter as Cornish people of the past used to, going outside in the dark and in less than perfect conditions.

Key figures at Montol

  • The Raffidy Dumitz Band – a large collection of Guise musicians and dancers.
  • The Lord of Misrule – Selected by casting of lots, anyone dressed correctly can enter.
  • Old Ned – A Guise beast in the shape of a crow.
  • Kasek Nos – A mysterious Skull on a Pole highly decorated ‘Obby ‘Oss that appears from the Admiral Benbow at 10pm

Guise Dancing and Costume

Rags and Ribbons Guise costume with Venetian style mask

Rags and Ribbons Guise costume with Venetian style mask

The main tradition represented at Montol is Guise Dancing – The complex and vibrant tradition of disguise found in Cornwall.  This means that all participants are encouraged to dress in the guise dance style which has several themes are variants.

  • Mock Formal – Dress in “posh hand me downs”.
  • Rags and Ribbons – Clothes covered in “Mock Rags” often highly colourful.
  • Topsy Turvy – Often in the form of cross dressing.
  • The face is disguised in a number of ways firstly by the use of a mask.  The most popular of these are Venetian style masks. However high quality animal masks were very common in guise dancing at one point as is the use of a black lace veil.  In some cases blacking or colouring the face can be seen.
Old Ned and Teaser. (Photo Andy Brown)

Old Ned and Teaser. (Photo Andy Brown)

The Montol Banner

The Montol Banner

The Montol Banner

The Montol Banner contains crucial imagery relating to the festival. The Sun Resplendent is the central image, the Winter Solstice marking the suns return. The words Golow and Tewlder in Cornish meaning “Light and Darkness”.

Below the sun is the symbol of St Thomas the Apostle whose Saints day is also on the 21st of December.

Traditional schedule at the Montol Festival, 21st of December

The Lord of Misrule at Montol

The Lord of Misrule at Montol

Please check the Montol website for full details of the 2014 events.

5.45pm – Selection of the Lord of Misrule.

6pm – Rivers of fire Procession in Guise costume.

6:30pm – Lighting of the Midwinter Fire

7:00pm Return to Penzance.

7.30pm The Montol Revels and the Guise Guilds.

10pm – Late night procession in Chapel Street followed by the chalking of the Mock Ceremony.

The Chalking of the Mock ceremony

The heart of Montol takes part at the 10pm procession where a Mock or Cornish Yule log is chalked.  The Montol beast chooses a member of the public who then draws a “stick man” on the wood.  The Lord of Misrule then declares “According to our tradition this represents the end of the old and the beginning of the new”. The Mock is then burnt.