The Night of the Beasts

The Unextinction Machine may have disappeared to do its work elsewhere but a great crowd of animals is making a come back to the Telegraph Hill area. Reinventing the old forgotten tradition of this area, just as the Garlick Man was rediscovered for the Summer Solstice, there will be a Winter Solstice celebration. On the evening of 22nd December, there will be a Night of the Beasts parade. Everyone is invited to dress as an animal, wear a beasty headdress or mask, or hold an animalistic sculpture, bring a cuddly toy or walk your pet dogs or polecats, and bring your lanterns and your musical instruments. Meet at the Telegraph pub at 5pm, a cheer at 5.30 pm at the moment of the turning of the year, then set off for an illuminated musical parade around the streets, ending at the Hill Station for wassailing, eating and drinking.

The winter solstice relates to animals because in ancient times it was the time of year when animals were slaughtered for meat supplies to last through the winter. In Finland, the Sami sacrificed animals for the sun-goddess Beiwe to eat. In Mali, they celebrate the arrival of humans in the Ark of the World, full of animals to populate the earth. The Hopi of North America bless their houses and all their animals. In Sussex, villagers would go to the orchards and wassail the bees and apple trees. We don’t know exactly why the people of Telegraph Hill celebrated the Night of the Beasts, but documents recording the existence of the ceremony have been recently discovered by the curators of the Nunhead and District Municipal Museum and Art Gallery.

To make sure lots of amazing animals will show up, artists are invited to gather and show people how to create masks, headdresses, furry costumes, beasty lanterns, or other wondrous creations. Feel free to drop in to this workshop. This will be 11.30-4.00 on 17th December in the Art Room (behind the Narthex) in the Telegraph Hill community centre.

Alternatively, if you want to get really stuck in and learn how to make carnival structures, you can attend two workshops at New Cross People’s Library. On Sat 26th Nov, 12-5 you can draw and design your animal. On Sun 18th Nov, 11-5, you can build your animal, working with a carnival artist, Jessie Easter and others. If you want to volunteer and learn more about carnival arts, you can attend a one off ‘train the trainer’ workshop on 3rd Dec with Jessie, from 2-5.

A leg of the parade will set off from New Cross Library on the 22nd Dec and join the crowd in Telegraph Hill.

For more information, contact Bridget on

We’d also like to hear from anyone willing to write a funny wassail song, with verses celebrating different animals, for everyone to join in singing.

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