I think it’s safe to say that most families have traditions, especially those that surround holidays we celebrate such as Christmas.
For over twenty years, my family has celebrated a post-holiday tradition of attending the annual Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at St. Peter’s Lutheran church in Lafayette Hill. It’s this fantastic combination of Medieval Celtic paganism and Christian Nativity play that I have loved and looked forward to since I was a child.
In a world where everything and everyone always seems to be in flux; though small things change there, it still has a comforting sameness to it year after year.
The suits of armor and spear and shield decorations are always there as they should be; with greeters by the front door dressed as though they’ve escaped from the local Renaissance Faire.
The Reverend who gives the opening remarks may change; but he will always be greeted by an adorable sprite who carries the light of God to him through the darkened church. It’s odd to think that the first sprite I ever saw has to be older than me right now…
The Lord and Lady of the Manor will arrive splendidly dressed; and greet their guests who dance some fashion of Medieval dance up the center Isle.
Since the boar was a symbol of evil in past days; the slaying of it was symbolic of Christ’s triumph over evil and darkness in the world. And the splendidly gruesome Boar’s Head prop will be brought out to much fanfare on its richly decorated tray that requires two young lads to carry – followed by the cooks and hunters carrying other aspects of the Festival feast.
Woodsmen (or Woodswomen) will pull the lighted Yule log through the church; being ridden and followed by a gaggle of wood sprites.
Young girls in angel costumes who no doubt had fun going overboard putting sparkles in their hair will come and dance; and herald the arrival of the Holy Family.
King Wenceslas will arrive with his page; and though he doesn’t know me he’s been played by the same man with the lovely tenor for my entire life. He’s like an old friend who has no idea I exit. He will be followed by Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior with their pages and gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myyrh.
The Star of the East will arrive; carrying the star ahead of him – and always dressed like Aladdin.
And over it all is the music; pipe organ, orchestra and full choir – all talented, all working hard on this labor of love – year beyond year. And best of all the bagpipe band – whose loud music of pipes and drums fills the space of the church to spectacular degree.
Some of my favorite and infrequently heard songs of Christmas come from hearing them at the Boar’s Head Festival; ones you don’t hear on the radio like the Star Carol, On the way to Bethlehem, and Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Ending it all with Highland Cathedral on bagpipes – echoing up to heaven through the ancient wooden rafters.
I took my husband once to the Festival when we were newly wed; and his take on it was that it’s nice – but you only need to see it once. For me; the Christmas season just isn’t complete until I’ve had that music fill me; and said hello to the grisly old black boar once again.