What are your favorite aspects of Christmas? Celebrating the birth of Christ? Enjoying the lights? The beautiful music? Bright, new clothing? The fun and unexpected moments that occur? You’ll find all of these things at the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at Plymouth Congregational Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Performed each year for several days following Christmas, the Festival will celebrate 40 years of performances this year.
The Festival is a true spectacle, involving over 250 church members, along with musicians from the local Philharmonic and choral groups that will give you goosebumps.
The Boar’s Head Festival did not begin with Plymouth Congregational Church. It’s actually the oldest continuing festival of the Christmas season, with roots in ancient times when the boar was feared as a forest menace. Roman feasts often featured boar as the first dish served, and this practice continued into medieval times.
With the rise of Christianity, the Christmas tradition of serving a boar came to symbolize the victory of the Christ Child over sin.
The Boar’s Head Festival itself began in 1340 in Queen’s College, Oxford, England. According to tradition, a scholar was walking through the forest on his way to Christmas Mass while studying a philosophy book. Suddenly accosted by a wild boar, the student rammed the book down the boar’s throat, choking him. The boar’s head was decorated and carried in procession that night to honor “the King of bliss.”
The ceremony has continued and grown in elaboration throughout the years.
At Plymouth’s version, you’ll find dozens of medieval characters, all dressed in brightly colored hand-made costumes. From the stately Beefeaters to the Yule Candle Sprite toddler, no detail is overlooked.
Keep your eyes open, because surprises await: you may be offered a cookie, asked to dance by a courtier, or be solicited for coins by a friendly beggar.
After the medieval participants re-enact a feast (including a telling of the story of Good King Wenceslas), the stage is cleared for the second part of the performance: the story of the Christ Child. We see Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and being turned away at the inn before finding shelter in the stable where Jesus is born.
The shepherds, angels and Magi all pay homage to the newborn King, concluding with a visit by the medieval characters as well. The feeling evoked as the entire cast bows to the baby in the manger is awesome, in the best and truest sense of the word.
Not to be overlooked is the music: a professional quality chorus and orchestra adds immensely to the feel of the pageant. From opening music by John Rutter and Gustav Holst to festival pieces such as “While All Things Were in Quiet Silence,” “Masters in This Hall” and “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol,” the music is first-rate and one of the best things about the Festival.
Tickets to the Boar’s Head Festival are free; the church considers the production its gift to the community. If you live within driving distance, I encourage you to attend this year!