Tom Bawcock is a legendary character from the village of Mousehole, Cornwall, England. He appears to have been a local fisherman in the 16th century. According to the legend, one winter had been particularly stormy, meaning that none of the fishing boats had been able to leave the harbour. As Christmas approached, the villagers, who relied on fish as their primary source of food, were facing starvation.
On 23 December, Tom Bawcock decided to brave the storms and went out in his fishing boat. Despite the stormy weather and the difficult seas, he managed to catch enough fish to feed the entire village. The entire catch (including seven types of fish) was baked into a pie, which had the fish heads poking through to prove that there were fish inside. Ever since then, the Tom Bawcock's Eve festival is held on 23 December in Mousehole. The celebration and memorial to the efforts of Tom Bawcock sees the villagers parading a huge stargazy pie during the evening with a procession of handmade lanterns, before eating the pie itself.
An older feast, held by the fishermen towards the end of December, included a pie cooked with different fish to represent the variety of catches the men hoped to achieve in the coming year. There is a possibility that Tom Bawcock's Eve is an evolution of this festival. Since 1963, the festival has been run against the backdrop of the Mousehole village illuminations, where the entire harbour is lit up, along with many other displays. One set of lights even represents the pie itself, showing fish heads and tails protruding from a pie dish underneath six stars.
There was a rumour that the entire festival was a fabrication by the landlord of The Ship Inn in the 1950s, however festivities had been recorded by Morton Nance, an author on the Cornish language, in 1927 in the magazine Old Cornwall. His description was regarding the festivities prior to 1900, though he doubted the reality of Tom Bawcock, suggesting it was in fact "Beau Coc". He also went on to confirm that the origins of the festival dated back to pre-Christian times, though it is unclear at what time the stargazy pie became part of the festivities. Morton Nance went on to restore the traditional song sung on Tom Bawcock's Eve, played to the local tune "wedding March".
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