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Ideas / Album / Twelfth Night
Photos from Twelfth Night celebrations on Bankside

Each year there is a special event performed in Bankside, on the south bank of the River Thames in London (near the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre).
A group of actors called The Lions Part celebrate New Year and Twelfth Night with a fun combination of seasonal traditions.
The event is free to attend, but please support the organisers by buying one of the programmes, making a donation or having a cake or bread roll!

In 2011 this event took place on Monday 3 January. It started outside the Globe Theatre on Bankside at about 1pm, reaching the George Inn shortly before 3pm.

The photos below were taken at the 2011 event.


Musicians entertain the crowds as they wait for the arrival of the Holly Man.

The White Bear fiddles

Accordeon player



The Holly Man is the winter form of a character known as the Green Man.
He is a symbol of nature and seasonal rebirth. The Green Man appears in pagan myths and folklore, and can often be seen engraved on church walls and on pub signs.

The Holly Man arrives by boat and walks up the steps opposite Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

The boat travels along the Thames to Bankside

The Holly Man comes ashore ...

... walking up the steps outside the Globe Theatre


Wassailing is an ancient southern English tradition. The purpose is to wake the apple trees and to scare away evil spirits, in order to ensure there will be a good harvest the next autumn.
A wish is made out loud, the word "wassail" is chanted, and alcohol in a bowl is drunk, pourred over a tree or thrown in the air.

As part of the Twelfth Night event four wassails are performed:
- The Boat Wassail takes place near the place where the Holly Man comes ashore
- The crowd moves to the entrance of the Globe Theatre, where the Globe Wassail is made
- The Tree Wassail is next. A local official is invited to bless a young apple tree by pourring liquid from the wassailing bowl onto its roots.
This tree was given as part of the October Plenty festival (see: Ideas/Album/OctoberPlenty)
- Following a procession to the George Inn, the final wassail is known as the George Inn Wassail

The Holly Man holds up the wassailing bowl
in front of the Globe Theatre

The Globe Wassail:
a wish for a successful year at the theatre

The Tree Wassail:
a wish for a good harvest from the young apple tree

The Deputy Mayor of Southwark pours liquid
from the wassailing bowl onto the apple tree's roots


The Mummers then perform a traditional 'freestyle' comic folk play, based loosely on the story of St George.
The play is full of lively verse and action. Mumming plays have been performed since the time of the Crusades.
The mummers were generally poor people who made costumes by turning their coat inside out and attaching ribbons or strips of cloth.

Here are photos of some of the characters who appear in this mummers' play:

Father Christmas introduces the story

Saint George


Turkish Knight


Gill Finney

Beelzebub (the Devil)

Twelfth Bake


After the mummers' play, cakes are given out to the crowd.
One cake contains a bean: the person who gets this is crowned King Bean.
Another cake contains a pea: the person who gets this is crowned Queen Pea.
In 2011 the Deputy Mayor of Southwark performed the crowning ceremony.

Cakes are given out ...

King Bean

Queen Pea


King Bean and Queen Pea lead a procession to the George Inn, where mulled wine is available.
The George Inn was a coaching inn during the 17th century and is now owned by the National Trust. It is mentioned by Charles Dickens in his book Little Dorrit.
Storytellers inside the building entertain children and adults with winter tales.

The George Inn

It is the only surviving galleried coaching inn in London

Wassail to the George Inn!


A kissing wishing tree is put up in the courtyard.
The kissing tree or wishing tree was a Christmas tradition in Britain before the introduction of the "Christmas tree".

Take a ribbon, tie it onto the tree ...

make a wish ...

... and kiss someone


Fowlers Molly provide entertainment in the courtyard.
Molly dancing is a Christmas tradition which takes place mainly on Boxing Day, Twelfth Night and Plough Monday (when farmers went back to work in the fields). It originated in the fens of East Anglia.

Molly dancers

"Molly" is a man dressed as a woman

Molly does a solo dance in front of the musicians


The Lions Part (
Twelfth Night page:

Bankside ( on the South Bank in London.
Globe Theatre (
St George's Inn, 77 Borough High Street:

Note that the actual date of Twelfth Night is 6 January each year (12 days after 25 December) - this is the day on which Christmas decorations should be taken down.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will
Author: William Shakespeare
Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks
Date: April 2008
Twelfth Night [1996] (DVD)
Studio: Entertainment in Video
Date: October 2001
Twelfth Night [1969] (DVD)
Studio: Network
Date: May 2009
The Green Man in Britain
Author: Fran Doel, Geoff Doel
Publisher: The History Press
Date: May 2001

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October Plenty (another annual event by the Lion's Part): Ideas/Album/OctoberPlenty
Jack-in-the-Green: Ideas/Album/JackInTheGreen
Morris dancing: Ideas/Album/MorrisDancing

Events in the UK in January: Ideas/Events/January
Christmas traditions in Britain: Ideas/Album/Christmas

Home page: Home

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