The event starts just before sunset, when people dressed in green and white meet near the boundary between Penzance and Newlyn. As the sun begins to drop below the horizon, they start blowing horns and whistles, and banging drums. This comes from an old belief that the noise would “drive out the devil of winter” and help bring in the warmth of summer. The people (known as “Mayers”) walk towards Penzance town centre, joined by Old Ned: a giant crow with a huge crown on his head.
When the procession gets to Larrigan River (a stream between Penzance and Newlyn), the horns and whistles are blown especially loudly. This reminds everyone that blowing horns on May Day used to be banned by the local council in the old town of Penzance.
At Penzance May Horns, traditional May whistles are created, which have a unique, high-pitched sound. These are made by gently loosening the bark around a stick of sycamore until it can be removed. A groove is made in the wood and a hole cut in the loose bark. The bark is then slid back on to the stick, making the whistle.
The evening ends with a celebration in Penzance, with food, Cornish dancing and music.