By Kalea Hall
It was an evening fit for a king — or three kings, the beefeaters, carolers, shepherds and a list of others.
“Everything, in that sense, in reality represents a slice of our lives because in any given community you need all of those to make it work,” said Richard Konzen, choir director at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The 53rd annual Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Youngstown lit up the crowd Sunday evening in celebration of the birth of Jesus from the perspective of the three kings. The festival fell on the day before Epiphany, which marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and celebrates the world recognizing baby Jesus as the son of God.
The festival tells the story of the kings visiting baby Jesus and bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
“We come almost every year,” said Annette Camacci of Poland, who went to the festival with her daughter, Lauren. “It is the best way to end the Christmas season.”
The boar’s head was known as a symbol of evil in the age of the Roman Empire. Serving the boar’s head at meals represented Christ’s defeat over evil, which began with his birth and transcended when he became known as the savior. The yule log is a symbol of family and love.
The first boar’s head festival is believed to have been in the mid-14th century at Oxford University in England. As time went on, other elements such as the yule log, the shepherds, the waits, the three wise men, pipers, drummers, beefeaters and more were added to the festival.
Eventually, the festival made its way to America. From 1960 to 2002, Ronald L. Gould arranged and directed the festival at St. John’s. Konzen took it over in 2003.
“I had no clue what I was getting into and now it feels so wonderful,” Konzen said. “It has an impact on the community.”
The festival consists of more than 100 cast members, who are parishioners and nonparishioners, dressed head to toe in medieval-style costumes. Frankincense drifted through the air on the inside of the stone-walled church built in 1895, making the festival even more theatrical.
The congregation of visitors at the festival was asked to join in the singing.
“Welcome to our sacred space and our festival,” the Rev. Paul Gaston said to the crowd. “Let the color of the type suggest how you should sing — bold.”
And then the festival began with a child skipping down the aisle in the dark with a lit candle to light the rector’s candle. Then the boar’s head processional came down the aisle.
“The boar’s head as I understand is the rarest dish in the land,” the performers sang.
A bang at the church’s door brought in the waits. A group of girls tossed candy to the crowd and performed. The yule log, ridden by a young girl, was pushed by three young boys with speed down the aisles of the church. A juggler also was in the mix. The last half of the festival focused on the three kings visiting baby Jesus.
“It is always wonderful,” said Betty Lucas of Columbiana, who has been coming to the show on and off since it began. “The story is magnificent. It’s never disappointing.”