Flora Day

May 6, 2015 by becca.lazar No Comments

Flora Day Helston - midday dance

Helston. 8th May. 7 AM. The low rumble of a bass drum echoes through the town, like an alarm clock kicking it into life. This is how Flora Day starts every year, ushering in spring, celebrating its warmth.

Flora Day most likely pre-dates Christianity and are connected to ancient spring festivals that take place all over Europe. The modern festival takes over the whole town, decorating the buildings with blue bells, gorse and laurel leaves as market stalls line the streets.

The centre of the festival and the big draw for most is The Furry Dance, otherwise known as the Flora Dance. Under absolutely no circumstances is it called the ‘Floral’ Dance, unless you want to invoke the ire of any born and bred Helstonian. There are four opportunities to see the Flora Dance: 7AM, 10AM, Midday and 5PM.

The first kicks off the day at the bright and early with young men and women dancing from the Guildhall and around the town. Those same people close proceedings with the evening dance, after spending the intervening hours clinking glasses in the pub – those dancers need some stamina.

The ten o’ clock dance is the children’s dance. Children as young as eight through to those sitting their A Levels snake through the town all dressed in white bringing out all the parents and their cameras.

The main event is, of course, the midday dance: it’s the one that makes the national television coverage each year; it’s the one that everyone wants to be part of, applying by letter months in advance; and it’s the one that sees the women dressed to the hilt and the men in morning suits. It’s a unique sight, and not just of the Cornish calendar, but of the country.

A thing or two must also be said for Helston Town Band, who can be heard the other side of Culdrose, if the winds going in the right direction: those dancers only have to dance through the town once, while those bass drum and tuba players march up and down all day long.

One of the best places to watch the dancing is in Lismore Garden. This is where the dancers stop for a break and is only open once a year. With a large lawn to spectate from and the dancers making their way round a lake at the bottom of the garden, the garden is a popular spot – definitely get there early.

Away from the main event is the Hal-an-Tow Pageant, a boisterous mummer’s play. Starting at around 8am at St John`s, the revellers make their way around the town performing a dance of mixed myth and legend. From Robin Hood and Little John, St George & the Dragon, St Michael & the Devil to the Spaniards of Mousehole, they re-enact battles of `good defeating evil` to `drive out the old and welcome in the new`.

As a Helstonian, Flora Day has been part of my life as far back as I remember. When I danced for the first time, at the age of 8, I already felt like a Flora Day veteran. Up to the age of 18 I dressed up in white every year and let my mum pin a piece of Lilly of the Valley to my chest before I marched off to dance. After that we’d go to the fair and hang out in the park, drinking as many sugary drinks as possible.

In later years, we’d head down the pub at half six in the morning for breakfast before watching the dances – those were the slightly boozy years. It was during that time that I discovered a lesser known part of day – the Cadgwith Singers giving it their all on Cross Street, something that I still make sure I see, if I can.

It’s been a few years since I’ve enjoyed a full Flora Day, so this year is going to be the first in ages. I’m going to be up early to experience that first bass drum and to welcome in the spring with those early morning dancers, before getting in place for the Hal-an-Tow. Who knows, after that it may be time for a pint of Spingo.  It is a festival afterall.

 

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