Tom Bawcock’s Eve in Mousehole Date in the current year: December 23, 2022

Tom Bawcock’s Eve in Mousehole On December 23, the small Cornish village of Mousehole holds an annual festival named Tom Bawcock’s Eve. It is dedicated to a legendary character who is believed to have saved the villagers from starvation by fishing in the storm.

Back in the old times, the villagers relied on fish as their primary source of food. According to local legend, on a particularly stormy winter their fishing boats were unable to leave the harbor and the village was facing starvation. Local fisherman decided to brave the storms and went out in the sea in his fishing boat. He caught enough fish to save his village from starvation. The villagers baked the entire catch into a pie to celebrate.

The first recorded description of the festival dates back to 1927. It was written by Robert Morton Nance, a local archaeologist and Cornish language enthusiast, who published it as an article in the magazine titled Old Cornwall.

According to the article, the festival most likely had pagan origins. Nance speculated that the last name Bawcock was derived from the French expression “beau coq”, which means “beautiful rooster”. Since pagans believed that roosters were heralds of new light, the festival is probably connected to the pre-Christian celebration of the winter solstice that takes place on December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Middle English, the word “bawcock” was used to describe a fine fellow. The name Tom, in its turn, was often used as a generic description of any men. So Tom Bawcock could have been a symbolic nickname for any worthy fellow who was not afraid to risk his life and went out to fish in a severe storm to save his fellow villagers.

In addition to the article, Nance wrote a poem about Tom Bawcock. It has become a song sung to a local tune known as the “Wedding March”. The song is still sung during the traditional Tom Bawcock’s Eve lantern procession that takes place in Mousehole on December 23.

On the occasion of the festival, local residents bake and eat stargazy pie. It is a traditional Cornish top-crust pie with potatoes, eggs, and baked sardines (pilchards) with heads protruding from the crust. As a result, the fish heads appear to be gazing skyward, hence the name of the pie.

The legend says that the original pie included seven kinds of fish caught by Tom Bawcock; the heads were left sticking from the crust to prove that the pie had fish in it. Today, stargazy pie is usually baked with pilchards, although herring or mackerel can be used a substitute. In addition to the traditional ingredients, the pie may include onions, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, white wine or mustard.

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Category

Folk Festivals

Country

United Kingdom

Tags

Tom Bawcock’s Eve, holidays in England, holidays in Cornwall, folk festival, Mousehole, stargazy pie