Ceremony and Celebration-Two ‘Osses – One tradition. Throughout the world communities carry out celebrations that are special to people in those places. They have often taken place for so long that the origins have become obscured. This is true of the Padstow May day celebrations which are not entirely unique, but have retained a special character that sets them apart. The man beneath the gown, wearing the fearsome mask assumes a certain menace. Another personality. A sense of magic and of time standing still electrifies the atmosphere on this day. How old is it? Pre-chrisitan riual or rustic Elizabethan fund raiser? Who knows? More likely fragments of both, surviving because a community refused to let it die, emerging in the 21st century as a symbol of community spirit in an ever changing world. Listen to the words of the song. “Unite and unite and let us all unite for summer is acome unto day.”
What people wear. White tops and trousers once only worn by a few ex sailors have become the standard dress for both parties. The piratical look favoured by the Old Oss part was introduced in the 1950’s.
The wearing of spring flowers, the flags, the greenery and the May Pole are all part of the May Day experience. Cow slips have special significance and are much in demand in the run up to the day. Once gardens were raided for tulips etc, but thankfully such anti social behaviour is a thing of a past (well nearly!)
“With the merry ring adieu the joyful spring” the song goes and at times the Oss dies a symbolic death only to leap up with renewed vigour. Ancient Fertility Rite some say, and don’t forget it is said that if a maid is caught under the gown she will become pregnant before the year is out. Who can argue with such potent image.
The “GREAT WAR” 1914-1919 was a time of change for people everywhere. In many places the old customs died with the men on the battlefield. Here in Padstow the mood of survival gave encouragement for a new Oss Party to emerge, based on previous Blue Ribbon Oss with a patriotic red, white and blue ribbon round the rim of the gown and on the hat. It was also called the Armistice or Peace Oss. The mask of this oss was slightly different too, a beard distinguished it from the original old oss.
The present and the future. Today the friendly rivalry between the two enthusiastic groups help to ensure the future of this special custom. Tourist flock to witness the spectacle, but it is not for them that it continues. This is Padstow’s day and it is a tribute to both Oss parties that it has essentially remained as such, in spite of this invasion.
The mysterious mask. It is not known where the design for the Mask came from. The details are carefully copied year after year, including the letters OB that have long since lost their significance. The men who cuilt the wooden ships and the men who sailed in them have left us their legacy. Is it mere fancy to suggest that the design may have been brought back from some other part of the world, where masked figures bearing an uncanny resemblance to our Oss have been recorded.
Note the dramatic use of horse hair, and sheeps wool in the design along with the snappers at the front. These were once worked from inside the oss by means of a strong. The message is clear. “Hand over your coin or the beast may bite.” Once these funds were vital. Nowadays the money goes to the charitable causes. The night singing remains unaccompanied, a simple and almost reverential start to the proceedings after the church clock has struck midnight. The route mainly in the old part of town visiting well know residents and singing appropriate verses. This part of the proceedings is led by the Old Oss party and begins outside the Golden Lion Inn, finishing somewhere “uptown” in the early hours.
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