The Holly Man Returns To Bankside To Mark The End Of Another Festive Season

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 31 months ago
The Holly Man Returns To Bankside To Mark The End Of Another Festive Season

A Mummers play is a British folk play traditionally performed at Christmas. Photo: Duncan WJ Palmer (2012)

If you take an afternoon stroll on Bankside this Sunday you'll be greeted with the sight of a man covered head to toe in holly and a merry troupe emerging from the Thames via rowing boat.

Don't be alarmed, they aren't stragglers from this year's out of hand New Year's Eve party — they're here to Wassail or wish you good health and start the Twelfth Night celebrations, the tradition of marking the end of the Christmas season, before the return to work on Plough Monday.

There's some contention over whether Twelfth Night is on 5 or 6 January, but The Lions part — a troupe of actors and musicians with an Olde English bent — are defying convention (again) this year by holding their wacky celebration on 3 January.

30 pubs in London are named after The Green Man. He traditionally dresses up in holly on the twelfth night. Photo: Duncan WJ Palmer (2012)

On the Bankside jetty the Mummers will perform their traditional 'freestyle' folk play of  'wild verse and boisterous action' featuring characters such as the Turkey Sniper, Clever Legs and the Old 'Oss. Stick around till the end and you'll be rewarded with cake.  

If you're the lucky couple who discover the hidden bean or pea in your baked goods you'll be crowned King Bean and Queen Pea and be led to the pub for your crowning. But not just any old London boozer, the George Inn is London's only surviving galleried coaching inn which has been getting revellers sloshed since the 1600s.

At the pub you'll be treated to story telling, dancing and the Kissing Wishing Tree. Who needs mistletoe when you can kiss under an evergreen bough decked with apples, sweatmeats, candles and ribbons?

For those looking to celebrate the end of the festive season north of the river, The Geffrye Museum is hosting a Farewell to Christmas on 6 January. Expect holly and ivy burning, carol singing, stories about Epiphany, mulled wine and Twelfth Night cake. Festivities unfurl in the museum's garden between 3.30pm and 5pm.

Tips: Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon waes hal, meaning 'be whole' if someone bids you 'wassail' respond with 'drinkhail', meaning 'your health'

Bankside Twelfth Night starts at 2pm and is free to attend.

Last Updated 03 January 2016