Wearing rich colorful costumes straight from English history and singing traditional carols in Latin and English, performers at St. John Lutheran Church celebrated the biennial Boar’s Head Festival, Dec. 14 and 15.
The Christmas performance is a spectacle of English pageantry, with lords and ladies, dancers, jester jugglers, a children’s choir and a live nativity scene.
Then, of course, there’s the severed head of the fearsome wild boar, an apple propped in its open jaws, carried by four bearers in Sherwood Forest-green.
“Caput apri defero,” sings the huntsman, “Here is the boar’s head, let us give thanks.” “Reddens laudes domino.”
The Boar’s Head Festival at St. John has been a tradition since 1997, and this year’s director, Cathy Walz, has been at every performance.
“There are 100 performers, a choir of 40 and a 20-piece orchestra,” Walz said.
In Medieval England, the story goes, the boar was considered sovereign of the forest, a dangerous menace which became a symbol of evil. Presenting the boar’s head at Christmas represented Christ’s triumph over evil.
Boar’s Head festivals take place all over the U.S. and they usually contain the same elements, the singing of carols, a nativity scene and the presentation of the Yule Log and the Christmas Light which is meant to symbolically be taken out into the world.
This year, Maurice Boyer of Concordia University was music director for the festival, which features its own choir and orchestra.
Pre-performance, singers from the Walther Christian Academy Chamber Choir performed with the orchestra and the Home Street Players, a recorder group made up of Michael Becker, Mary Anne Wolff Gardner and Katheryn Smart.
Finally the show began, with cookies passed out to those in the pews. The church hall was transformed into a “medieval manor house” by Beefeaters carrying herald banners. King Wenceslaus, played by Jeff Kiel, and his jester, played by Justin Martin, oversaw the different tableaus. Samuel Sharber, playing the king’s page, performed a solo.
A children’s choir, made up of students of Walther Christian Lower School (formerly St. John School) and other congregation members, arrived with the Yule Log to sing Christmas favorites. Stephanie Piatkiewicz also performed a dance solo during the performance.
As the stage morphed into a living nativity scene, Courtney and Daniel Regan, playing Mary and Joseph, arrived at the Bethlehem inn with two-month-old Emmett making his stage debut as the infant Jesus, complete with pacifier.
“We always have a live baby,” said Walz. “It hasn’t always been a boy over the years, but it’s always a real baby.”
Darrell Avery, Ed Thiesse and Paul Dahlstrand played the three Magi, decked out in peacock feathers and sequins.
All costumes for the performance were created by Kathi Dahlstrand, Walz said. Heidi Dahlstrand directed the performance in just a couple of weeks by rehearsing with small groups until the whole thing came together the week of the show, Walz added.
As shepherds, townspeople and members of the great hall gathered around the Holy Family, the choir sang “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and the audience ended with “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”
The lights dimmed and Christina Carlson carried the Christmas star through the darkened church and into the world as a symbol of advent. The crowd rushed to the decorated gym, where Christmas cookies and beverages waited.
“It’s great to see the congregation pull together every time for the festival,” Walz said. “It’s such a beautiful message to share with the community.”