Twelfth Night traditionally marks the end of Christmas (boo!) and the beginning of a New Year. To celebrate, Bankside in London hosts a unique event, mixing ancient seasonal customs with contemporary festivity.
Hosted by the Lions part, this quirky Twelfth Night event brings the area alive with singing, dancing, plays and storytelling.
This year’s event will begin at 2pm on Sunday 5th January, with the Holly Man arriving from the Thames. The Holly Man, a wintry version of the Green Man, is a popular figure in pagan myths and folklore. For Twelfth Night, the Holly Man arrives in style from the river, in a traditional rowing boat, decked in fantastic green garb and evergreen foliage. He is accompanied by another infamous character, Beelzebub.
Once the Holly Man has arrived on dry land, the celebrations really begin, with some lively wassailing, a boisterous folk play and plenty of merriment.
The wassail is led by the Bankside Mummers, along with the Holly Man and the crowd, to ‘bring in the green’ and toast or ‘wassail’ the people, the River Thames and the nearby Globe theatre. Wassailing is an old tradition that is meant to encourage good growth and drive out evil spirits.
The wassail is followed by the Mummers’ Play performed at the Bankside Jetty. The Mummers’ Play is a traditional folk play featuring an eclectic bunch of characters, including the Turkey Sniper, Clever Legs, the Old ‘Oss and many others, all dressed in spectacular costumes. The play is full of wild verse and boisterous action, a time-honoured part of the season.
But that is not all! At the end of the play cakes are distributed to the crowd (hurrah!). A bean and a pea are hidden in two of the cakes, and those who are lucky enough to find them are crowned King and Queen for the day. They then lead the people through the local streets to the nearby historic George Inn. The George Inn in Southwark is London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn, and here the crowd usually warms up with some storytelling, dancing and mulled wine.
Everyone is welcome to attend the free Twelfth Night celebration. The event is organised by the Lions part, a group of professional performers who come together every year to celebrate the changing seasons and explore English heritage.
Their performances often involve local artists and community groups making costumes, banners and props; often using recycled or unwanted materials. The company has strong links with storytellers, musicians, dancers, street performers, re-enactors, costume-makers and conservation groups.
When: 5th January 2020, from 2pm
Where: Bankside, London
More info: www.thelionspart.co.uk/twelfthnight