Festival of the month: Twelfth Night and the Holly Man

I’ve never been one for the upscaling of festivals and a blatant disregard for seasonality. No strawberries in December, no birthday weeks and definitely no Christmas all year round. The beauty in being a Celt with a passion for the ancient festivals is that there is something new to celebrate every few weeks. It brings a rhythm to life which is grounding and healthy.

January may be dark and drear but it is an opportunity to bring an end to Christmas by celebrating Hen Galan or Twelfth Night, perhaps in Tudor style or in a more homespun fashion. You may even go wassailing. I’ve only recently discovered the Holly Man of Bankside, which combines many (or all) of the traditions of this time of year. Bedecked in greenery, the main man arrives over the Millennium Bridge in London to the accompaniment of  Wassailers and mummers who perform a traditional play featuring St George. After the play, cakes are given out and those who find the concealed bean and pea in their cakes are crowned King and Queen for the day; a procession then makes its way to the George Inn on Borough High Street for more dancing, mulled wine, the Kissing Wishing Tree and storytelling. What more could you want from a winter festival except for an orchard of your own, a recent snowfall and all your neighbours coming together to look forward to a good harvest later in the year?

All being well the Bankside festival should be tomorrow at 2pm. The festival is free and goes ahead whatever the weather, as festivals should. We’re not in London any more but I can definitely see the attraction. You might go if you’re in London and it’s safe to do so. In COVID times you might recreate your own festival in the garden, embrace the atavistic, bang a few pots, drink mulled cider, wave goodbye to Christmas and look forward to fruitful times ahead.

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