Helston Flora Day
Flora Day takes place every year on 8th May (except when the date falls on a Sunday or Monday, which is Market Day, when it then takes place on the Saturday before). It is a celebration of the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. It is one of the oldest British customs still practised today and see's massed dances through the streets of the town and the performance of the Hal an Tow pagent.
The midday dance is perhaps the best known and was traditionally the dance of the gentry of the town. Today the men wear top hats and tails while the women dance in their finest frocks. Traditionally, all dancers wear Lily of the valley, Helston's symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right.
Did you know?
In January 1978 a vocal version of the Flora Dance tune by DJ Terry Wogan reached number 21 on the UK singles chart.
What’s it all about?
The origins of this famous celebration dance are more than likely pre-Christian and connected to ancient spring festivals that take place all over Europe. Nowadays the festival’s original purpose of ushering in a prosperous harvest expresses itself in a lively, colourful celebration that involves the whole town. A great family day out.
The town is decked out with bluebells, gorse and laurel leaves gathered from the surrounding countryside. Dancing begins at 7.00am with gentlemen wearing shirts and ties and the ladies in light summer dresses. Not long after the Hal-an-Tow, a boisterous mummers’ play featuring scenes of St George slaying the Dragon begins cheered on by a crowd dressed in Lincoln green and Elizabethan robes. The children of the town dance at 10.00am wearing flowers and lily of the valley and at midday the formal dance of the day begins with men wearing morning dress and the ladies decked out in magnificent ball gowns and hats that could be the envy of Ascot. To round off the day of dancing, the Evening Dance starts from the Guildhall at 5pm.
How can you take part?
You'll probably have to park outside the town and walk in as thousands of visitors pack the streets all day to watch the dances. During the day the main street and down towards the boating lake buzzes with many stalls selling local souvenirs, Cornish crafts and food and a big fairground and there's a carnival atmosphere from dawn to well into the night.
Taking part in the dancing is by invitation only by applying to the Flora Day Association. The event is held every year on May 8th unless that day falls on a Sunday or Monday, when it is held on the preceding Saturday.
Did you know?
The Flora Dance melody, played during the celebrations every year by Helston Town Band, is said to date back to a pre-Christian times. Put to words in 1911 by London born composer Katie Moss, the lyrics are allegedly based on a true incident when, whilst visiting Helston Floral Day, Moss was grabbed by a stranger who enticed her to join in the dancing.