13 January 2017

Cornwall: Mummers Day in Stein-ville

Padstow is one of the most picturesque fishing villages I’ve ever seen, a delight of old buildings and a charm of meandering lanes clustered around a small walled harbour basin, this day full of colourful fishing boats. I make no apology for including lots of photos!

For those who don’t know, my rather tongue-in-cheek naming of the town as Stein-ville in this post’s title is a reference partly to the fame – and tourist dollars – that have come to Padstow as a result of celebrity chef Rick Stein and wife Jill buying a nightclub-then-restaurant way back in 1974, and partly because he seems to own half the town!

Nowadays, according to Rickstein.com, you can ‘stay in our 40 guest rooms in Padstow’ or ‘visit our deli, gift shop, patisserie and fishmongers in Padstow’ and you have a varied choice of Rick Stein places to eat, from the flagship Seafood Restaurant to Rick Stein’s Cafe, Stein’s Fish and Chips, and St Petroc’s Bistro. Plus, you can learn to cook the Rick Stein way at Rick Stein’s Cookery School. I’m amazed Padstow hasn’t voted Rick Stein for mayor! Oh, and in case you’re wondering whether or not we tried his produce, all the Stein outlets were closed.    

That's because it was Boxing Day and, also because it was Boxing Day, the streets were jam-packed with tourists and holidaymakers but not so many as to be unpleasant – there was a jolly buzz to the atmosphere, and one major contribution to this buzz came from the mummers. We were enjoying the obligatory Cornish pasty lunch in a local cafe when we saw our first sign of them – a young woman with blackened face – followed soon after by a young man, also with blackened face and wearing a colourful waistcoat, who came to draw money from the cash machine across the road.

As we emerged from the cafe and headed towards the harbour, we heard first the drumming, then the piano accordions. People were gathering – there was a parade! Everyone loves a parade!

Here’s the background from the Cornwall Guide website:   

Every year on Boxing Day and New Year's Day the townsfolk take to the streets once more for their corresponding winter festival, traditionally known as Darkie Days.
Darkie Days form part of an ancient tradition of Pagan midwinter festivals that were until quite recently celebrated all over Cornwall between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night. The festivals centred on the practice of guise dancing (also known as goose dancing), which usually involved the performance of a traditional play (known as a Mummer's or Mumming play) whilst wearing a disguise, traditionally a blackened face, which allowed the players to lose their inhibitions and perform outlandishly in return for food or money. The practice of blacking one's face signalled a contrast to the summer festivals, such as the Obby Oss, during which white would be worn to herald the spring.

Due to the current fashion for political correctness, the name Darkie Day has been deemed inappropriate and the days are now known as Mummers Days. The face painting has also been criticised but, as explained above, this has absolutely nothing to do with race. Personally, I love the fact that local people are keeping these wonderful old traditions alive!

The parade was fun to watch – we saw them pass by twice during our wanders around the town, so I got lots of photos and made sure to add a donation to their collection boxes (in aid of local charities). Except for missing out on Rick Stein's fish and chips, we had timed our visit to Padstow just perfectly!

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