Flora Day is my favourite day of the year and a big part of the Helston calendar. My whole family have danced on Flora Day and my dad used to play in Helston Town Band leading the processions.
Traditionally held on May 8th, but if the 8th falls on a Sunday (traditional day of rest), or Monday (Market Day) then it’s held on the Saturday. Hundreds of people line the streets to watch the festivities, with people travelling from far and wide to experience the unique event.
The day before Flora Day, or “Flora Day eve” as it is sometimes known, is an incredibly atmospheric day. The houses and shops in the centre of Helston are all decorated with greenery and flowers, most traditionally bluebells and gorse, but you will find some of the more creative shop owners (especially the florists!) put on a really fantastic display.
Thought of by a lot of locals as “better than Christmas”, Flora Day celebrates the coming of spring and the departure of winter. The Hal-an-Tow, which takes place in several town centre locations between 8:30am and 9:30am, is a sort of street theatre depicting this sentiment with participants singing, “…for summer is a come-o and winter is a gone-o”. It also tells the story of St George and the dragon, St Michael and the Devil, Saint Piran, the Spanish Armada plus other local stories. There are even pirates involved, and rumour has it that the identity of the devil is a closely guarded secret, even from the cast members!
The Flora Dance itself runs throughout the day. Participants carry out a processional dance to the same piece of music weaving in and out of Helston’s shops and private houses as they go. The music has never been written down, so members of Helston Town Band pass it on through practical tuition to the next generation. Regardless of which dance they participate in, all dancers wear Lily of the Valley, facing down on right for women, and up on the left for men.
You do not have to be “Helston-born” to dance, but it certainly helps in your position in the line-up of the dance. You cannot lead any of the dances unless you are Helston-born, for example. To lead is one of the greatest honours to a lot of Helstonians – it is my ultimate dream! To be Helston-born means your parents must have been Helston residents at your time of birth.
The first dance of the day is the 7 o’ Clock. The participants of this dance were traditionally the servants of the town. Nowadays it tends to be for younger people. It is the most arduous of the dances as it requires approximately 3 miles of walking! Men wear white shirts and a green tie that is provided by the Helston Flora Day Association, and ladies wear summer dresses and gloves (particularly difficult to shop for in the 21st century!). The participants of this dance also dance the 5 o’ clock.
The second dance of the day is the Children’s dance, which is a wonderful sight to behold – children from each Helston school dance through the streets dressed in white. Each school is represented with different coloured ties for the boys, and flowers for the girls. The girls from Helston Community College, the secondary school, wear forget-me-knots in their hair while the boys wear their traditional navy and gold tie. Below is when I danced in my final year at Helston Community College.
Parc Eglos School wear red ties, and their flowers are poppies and buttercups. Here’s a picture of me and my brother all dressed up for his first Flora Day (you have to be 7 years old to dance!)
At 12pm, the big bass drum strikes again to begin the most impressive and vibrant dance of the day, the Midday Dance. This was traditionally performed by the gentry of the town, so nowadays ladies wear ballgowns, fabulous hats and long gloves, while men dress in full morning-suits and top hats. I love watching this dance as the dresses are so beautiful. Those chosen to lead the dance are seen to be beaming with pride and often emotional.
The day is rounded off with the participants of the early morning dance completing the 5 o’ clock dance. There is a joyful, relaxed atmosphere to this dance.
As well as the traditional aspects of the day, the streets are also lined with market stalls aplenty, and at the bottom of town there is a funfair for those seeking an adrenaline rush!
There aren’t many times of the year when I can be willingly dragged out of bed by a 5am alarm, but on Helston Flora Day the child in me emerges and I rise, bleary-eyed but eager for a day full of dancing, merriment and (hopefully) good weather.
If you’re thinking of coming down, here are the details of the day:
|7am: The “Early Morning” or 7 o’ Clock DanceApprox.
8:30am: the Hal-an-Tow
9:40am: The Children’s Dance
12 Midday: The Midday Dance
5pm: The 5 o’ Clock Dance
See you there!