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British Life & Culture

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by Mandy Barrow

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Twelfth Night - The Mummers Play

Mummers' Plays are one of the oldest surviving features of the traditional English Christmas. Mumming in England goes back for over a thousand years.

Mumming is best described as early pantomime. The plays are based loosely on the legend of St. George and the dragon. The plays are intended to show the struggle between good and evil.

During the Twelfth Night Celebrations in London, the The Lions Part Mummers perform the traditional 'freestyle' Folk Combat Play of St. George.

St GeorgeThe turkish Knight

Half a dozen heavily disguised characters perform the play. The characters vary from play to play, although the hero is always St George, who fights with the power of evil traditionally represented by the Turkish Knight (boo hiss). Characters in the Lions Part Mummers play include the Turkey Sniper, Clever Legs, the Old 'Oss and many others, all dressed in their spectacular 'guizes'.


Clever Legs

There is much medieval sword play in the play and usually one character eventually plays dead.

St Georgemedieval sword play

Cue the quack doctor who enters, performs a miraculous, albeit comedic, cure on the body and in the process neatly performs the symbolic act of reawakening the earth from the death of winter.

The Doctor

There are two more characters who may also appear in Mummers' Plays. One is Father Christmas.

Father Christmas

The other is Johnny Jack (In the Lion's Part Mummers play the character is Gill Finney).

Gill Finney

At the end of the Lions Part Mummers Play, cakes distributed, by a character known as Twelfth bake, have a bean and a pea hidden in two of them. Those who find them are hailed King and Queen for the day and crowned with ceremony.

Twelfth Bake

The new King and Queen then lead the people through the streets to the historic George Inn in Borough High Street for a fine warming up with Storytelling, the Kissing Wishing Tree and more Dancing.

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When is Twelfth Night? | Twelfth Day | Twelfth Night Traditions

Why is it unlucky to take down decorations after Twelfth Night?

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.