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Yesterday I was lucky enough to be part of a real community and something very special – May Day in Padstow. Family living in Rock invited me down for what was a very real experience in amongst the Padstonians to celebrate a custom said to be one of the oldest surviving in the UK.
Traditional midnight singing with the Obby Oss Choir, Padstow town and its residents reverberating to the call ‘Unite and Unite and let us all Unite’.  The 1st of May sees Padstow on the Camel Estuary, on the north coast of Cornwall, decorated with the first greenery of the year, bluebells, cowslips, forget-me-nots and the catkins of hazel and sycamore twigs heavy with the first leaves of spring.  The followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes coming before the Oss, all to celebrate the coming of spring.
The ‘Obby Oss’ looks like a big black caped animal – thought to represent a stallion – with a strange mask and snapping jaws. The Pagan dance and the rhythm of the drum are quite hypnotic. The ‘Obby Oss’ is led on by a ‘Teaser’ who dances around the ‘Oss’ and prods him with a special padded stick. On its route the ‘Oss’ sometimes drags females under its dark costume in an attempt to portray a fertility rite. It is said that “if you were caught beneath the veil that you would be pregnant within the year.”
Celebrations begin early morning on May Day with the stable doors opening to let the Oss appear onto the narrow streets.  Firstly around the harbour crowded with thousands of onlookers, then up the narrow lanes goes the procession of the Obby Oss Clan, even into gardens and houses.  Festivities go on all day and into the evening, old friends catch up and pubs are full of people singing:
May Day ‘Day Song’
“Unite and unite let us all unite,
For summer is acome unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.”
After the adrenalin rush subsided avoiding the prancing antics of the ‘Oss’ I relished recalling the songs of the crowds and the atmosphere on the streets; the community spirit took me straight back to the street parties of the Silver Jubilee in the 70’s.  I had been part of one of the UK’s greatest celebrations for a grand total of £7 – the cost I fear could be greater over the next year having been one of the females to be caught under the Red Oss!
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