The evening of 5 January of each year is celebrated in many places around the world as the official end of the holiday season. It is called the Twelfth Night of Christmas. There are many traditions associated with Twelfth Night. It is considered to be a time to play practical jokes on friends and neighbours. Some celebrants hide live birds in an empty pie case. When the crust is cut, the birds fly away. A fruitcake may be baked. Hidden in the cake may be a bean, pea, clove, twig, or rag.
London is a great place to be to take part in this interesting celebration. This year I was in the city through most of January, and I was able to attend the celebration at Bankside by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames.
What exactly is it?
The whole event is really quite fascinating. It starts with a man, known as Holly Man, dressed all in green appearing on the Thames Cutter on the river, announcing the beginning of the celebrations. The Holly Man, the London Town Crier, and the Bankside Mummers toast the crowd, the river, and the Globe Theatre. The toast is to ensure good crops in the coming year. Then the Mummers perform the Folk Combat Play of St. George on the Bankside Jetty.
At the end of the performance, they hand out Twelfth Night cakes to everyone – and some had a bean or a pea hidden inside just like the tradition dictated. I didn’t have anything in my cake, but the guy next to me found the bean, and he was congratulated by everyone and crowned the Twelfth Night King. A few minutes later a woman on the other side of the crowd found the pea, and she became the Twelfth Night Queen.
The King and Queen then led everyone through the streets to the George Inn on Burough High Street where we laughed the night away with tall stories and dancing. I really have not had this much fun with a group of strangers in a long time.
If you have the opportunity to be staying in London in early January, you really should try to catch this event. It’s free, and easy to find, and definitely something you will remember. Who knows, maybe you could be the next King or Queen of the Twelfth Night.