Golowan is the Cornish Language word for the Midsummer celebrations in Cornwall. Widespread prior to the late 19th century and most popular in the Penwith area and in particular Penzance and Newlyn. The celebrations were conducted from 23rd June (St. John's Eve) to 28th June (St. Peter's Eve) each year, St. Peter's Eve being the more popular in Cornish fishing communities. The celebrations were centred on the lighting of bonfires and fireworks and the performance of associated rituals. The midsummer bonfire ceremonies were revived at St. Ives in 1929 by the Old Cornwall Society and since then spread to other societies across Cornwall, as far as Kit Hill near Callington. Since 1991 the Golowan Festival in Penzance has revived many of these ancient customs and has grown to become a major arts and culture festival: its central event 'Mazey Day' now attracts tens of thousands of people to the Penzance area in late June.
The Penzance Golowan was one of the last examples of this practice in Cornwall until its prohibition by the Penzance Borough Council in the 1890's due to increased insurance premiums in the town and perceived fire risk. The celebrations themselves were centred on the lighting of fireworks, tar barrels, and torches on the evening of 23rd June every year. Towards the end of these festivities the local youths of the town would take part in the ancient serpent dance and jump or pass themselves through the dying embers of the flames. During these celebrations it was also usual to elect a Mock Mayor or Mayor of the Quay. In 1864 it was recorded that the organising committee of the festival let off "258 dozen fire crackers" The day after these celebrations, a 'Midsummer's Day' fair took place on Penzance quay; boat rides and other entertainments were included in these celebrations.
The modern Golowan Festival in Penzance started in 1991 as an attempt to revive many of the traditions stated above and has grown into one of the UK's most distinctive festivals. The core of the modern festival is 3 days known as Mazey Eve, Mazey Day and Quay Fair Day. Mazey Eve takes place around the harbour area of Penzance and includes a popular election of the 'Mayor of Quay' and a large firework display. The following day – Mazey Day is a large community and arts celebration. Artists, Schools and members of the public take part in a series of processions that include music, giant sculptures and variety of other artistic activities. Contributions from musicians and artists from the Celtic nations are a regular feature as are a variety of other musical contributions. Penzance itself during this day is decorated with large amounts of greenery – mirroring the practice in the town during the ancient festival. A large number of market stalls are also present throughout the town. Mazey Day attracts thousands of visitors to the area and has become an important symbol of the identity of town amongst local people. Quay Fair day is a celebration that is similar in many ways to 'Midsummer Fair' described in the ancient festival with the addition a popular street entertainment.
In October 2015 Penzance Town Council passed a motion to outsource the running of the festival to a private company, after Cornwall Council "lost confidence in Penzance Town Council's management of the festival".
Penzance Newlyn Cornish Language Cornish Calendar