Monday, January 08, 2007
Boar's Head Revisited
The Boar's Head ancient festival is a processional celebration of Epiphany. A cast of characters processes up the main aisle of the church accompanied by various hymns and tunes sung sometimes by soloists, sometimes by the choir and orchestra, and sometimes by the whole congregation. The order and actions of the characters processing, along with the musical pieces, bears testimony to Christ and His Kingship at birth. The boar, a symbol of evil, is slain and his head is carried up on a platter. All the royals of the earth gather to celebrate and a feast of dancing and jesting follows a long procession of royalty.
I do not have a decent picture of the dancers and circus performers that provided the entertainment at the royal court. However, I must say that it was a most amazing thing to see the church overrun by a mass of Irish Dancers, their curly wigs bouncing like a truck load of rubber balls dumped on the interstate. They filled every open space in the church and kicked and moved with such swiftness to the tune of a rockin' "Sugarplum Fairies" that I warned my husband not to step back into the aisle for fear he'd be seriously injured (I hope the boys don't expect this at mass from now on).
The Woodsmen follow the dancers carrying the Yule Log as the congregation sings "Deck the Halls." After the woodsmen, come the clergy. The monks and priests followed by none other than his holiness, himself! What a surprise! The choir and orchestra play a beautiful rendition of the "Christmas Gloria" as he passes and waves his "benediction."
When all the earthly kings and peasants, clergy, jesters and waifs have gathered together, a star appears heralding the coming of the true King of Kings, the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.
And there is Father Hinkley--the priest behind everything good that happens at St Anne's-- with Jacob. He is pointing the way, as he always does, to Jesus...
As the Holy Family processes, the choir sings "Silent Night" and the congregation joins in the third verse, "Son of God, Love's pure light, Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth..." At this point, my heart was burning with love for that King and overjoyed at the sight of that dear baby and I realized that this was one of the reasons I love Christmas so much--it combines two of my favorite things: God and babies! Only a heart as cruel as Herod's can reject God in the form of a baby.
The little drummer boy follows the Holy Family, and he is followed, in turn, by the shepherds who lead a llama through the church and a few sheep as well (again, let's hope the boys don't expect this next Sunday). "The Little Drummer Boy" is sung and "The First Noel."
Lastly, enter the three Kings with their gifts and each king sings a solo part in that beautiful song, "We Three Kings." After the kings pay their homage, the recessional is none other than Handel's brilliant and electrifying "Hallelujah Chorus." And what a recessional it is with all those kings and queens, knights, monks, priests, jesters and acrobats!
As far as production goes, this particular presentation of the Boar's Head festival could probably be outdone. The costumes and acting were quite good, though, and not the least professional. And I doubt the music could have been any better-- that was certainly top notch. But what does it matter anyway? What I loved most about this celebration was the way the congregation seemed so alive. We Catholics are known for mumbled-mouthed singing and a general lack of enthusiasm at worship. I don't know if I would necessarily agree with this stereotype, but I do know how exciting it was to hear the congregation sing these beautiful Christmas songs with such heart and devotion. I felt a certain bond, a certain sense of family with the other parishioners that night that I don't often feel.
In fact, most of these pictures were taken by the woman sitting behind us whom we had never met before that evening. She took as many pictures of us as she did of the event and scribbled down my email address so that she could send them to me. I received them within hours (forty pictures!) with a note,
"Dear Suzanne, Here are the pictures as promised. I hope you enjoy them. You have a beautiful family. Thank you for sharing them with me tonight!"
I was very touched by this.
And here's Simeon with one of the acrobats of the royal court (on stilts) at the Wassail party that followed downstairs!
[Please note, this is not a complete program of events for this production. There were more characters and carols than I mention here.]