Sunday, December 29, 2002

Boar's Head festival offers tradition, fun


Cathedral celebrates tradition dating to 14th-century England

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Toy boar's head is a prop for the Christ Church Cathedral festival.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Even without a real boar's head, the show must go on.

Other than using a humble pig as a stand-in for the mighty boar, the Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival at Christ Church Cathedral downtown authentically animates a tradition dating to 14th-century England.

Boars are "in short supply in the forests of Cincinnati," the festival program notes. So a pig's head, courtesy of the Crittenden farm of Joe and Suzann Leist, serves as a surrogate, disguised with tusks that were hand-carved for the church's first Boar's Head celebration in 1940.

Organizers say the Cincinnati production was the nation's first Boar's Head festival staged in a church and it has served as a model for 100 other churches' Boar's Head ceremonies.

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Beefeater characters march past the audience to start the festival.
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Maurice Mandell is chief minstrel.
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Among its key ingredients:

• The boar's head - A slain ferocious beast symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

• The yule log - Igniting it with an ember from last year's log represents the rekindling of love, a gift from the Christ Child.

• The enthusiasm and dedication of 300 volunteers from the congregation, including an orchestra, choir, support staff and 170 costumed performers.

"Our secret is the fact that we've been doing this for 63 years - and about 70 percent of the people in the festival do it over and over again," said Bob Beiring, the show's director for 25 years. "The joy of performing this and knowing it's our gift to the community keeps us coming back. Once you get started, it's hard to stop."

The cast ranges in age from Mr. Beiring's 5-year-old grandson, Logan Armstrong, who plays a yule sprite, to 84-year-old Maurice Mandell, a former New York City Opera singer who has served 33 years as chief minstrel in the local festival.

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Dressed as yule sprites, Lela Robinson, 5. and Matilda Montgomery wait backstage to perform.
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But Philip Hagner holds the participation record: 55 years. "He started as a sprite; now he's a Beefeater," Mr. Beiring said.

A dozen men portraying the red-suited Tower of London guards stomped their way into the cathedral to start the show.

Logan, the sprite, brought a lighted candle to the altar in the darkened church, symbolizing the light of Christ. His task accomplished, he exclaimed, "I did it!"

After a trumpet sounded, dozens of costumed characters marched in. One of the biggest attention-getters: huntsman Gary Denzler, with Ginger, a live hawk, perched on his hand.

Amid much grandeur, the "boar's" head was carried to the dais. It was festooned with pine boughs and holly, garnished with red apples and hoisted upon a trencher (a wooden tray with long handles).

The yule log followed, with two little girls in elflike green and red outfits sitting astride as it a page wheeled it into the sanctuary. Meanwhile, minstrels playfully leaped from pew to pew.

Then the production's mood changed from festive to reflective.

IF YOU GO
• What: 63rd annual Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival.
• When: 2:30 and 5 p.m. today.
• Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 318 E. Fourth St., downtown.
• Tickets: If you did not obtain a free ticket this month, plan to arrive an hour in advance and request "sign-in seating" from the head usher. Attendees with tickets will be seated until 15 minutes before the performance, then remaining seats will go to those without tickets. No charge, though a $5 donation is suggested.
• Information: 621-BOAR or www.boarsheadfestival.com. Recordings of the show will soon be available on CD, videocassette and DVD.
A spotlight focused attention on a painting of the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

Shepherds and the Three Kings made their way to the altar.

The pageantry climaxed with all the cast members joining in a chorus of "O Come All Ye Faithful."

To end the show, Logan, the little sprite who lit the first candle to appear in the show, returned. He grabbed the purple robe of The Very Rev. James A. Diamond, the church's dean. Together, they exited the cathedral, bearing a large candle to represent spreading the light of Christ into the world.

A crowd exceeding 600 enthusiastically applauded Saturday's dress rehearsal.

The festival program booklet offers this explanation for the production's enduring appeal: "It is not a story of tunes and times past and gone. It is a living story told by modern-day minstrels - and echoed in all of us."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com



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