The pageant begins as a gong sounds the hour. The prelude, arranged from an English folk song, is based on “The Cherry Tree Carol” in which Jesus, from within the womb, changes a cherry tree to bend down its branches to Mary. Apocryphal stories like this were popular among traveling mendicant friars in the Middle Ages.
Procession of the Beefeaters
The heavy tread of the Beefeaters – traditional guardians of the king – sound as they enter to begin their watch.
“As Dew In Aprill” (Anonymous, 13th Century) is probably the oldest carol in the Boar’s Head Ceremony.
The Yule SpriteThe Yule Sprite Comes
Into the darkened church comes a sprite bearing the tiny light of a burning taper. From it, the Dean lights the great Festival candle and holds it high so that all may feel its blessed light on their shoulders. This symbolizes the coming of Christ into an enlightened world. The light is given to the Church not only to preserve, but to extend it throughout the Earth.
The Boar’s Head Procession
A trumpet sounds. Led by a minstrel, a noble company of knights and attendants brings the boar’s head with its many accoutrements. At length the conquered enemy is presented near the altar. A long line of companies follows the slain boar.
The Boar’s Head Carol is a variant of a carol from Wynken de Worde’s “New Christmasse Carolles” of 1521, which is sung at Queen’s College, Oxford. Our version includes three verses written by parishioner Eric Van Hagen in 1961.
The Yule Log
A prayer for God’s keeping accompanies the gayest and brightest of medieval holiday customs, the yule log. The huge log was gathered with ceremony, and brought with hope to the home hearth where it was kindled from embers from the old year’s fire. Its blazing warmth spoke of rekindled love and promise for the year to come.
“Sons of Eve” (Spanish, 16th century) is exuberant in spirit, reveling in God’s special gifts to youth, the waits come sharing gladness.
In the Middle Ages it was customary for the lord and lady of the manor to provide lavish Christmas feasts for their serfs and vassals. Frequently they came into the castle to sing carols and toast their lord saying, “Wassail!” which means “Good health to you!”
The coming of the waits divides the service into two distinct parts. First we have celebrated our good health, our material wealth, and the love of family. At length we grow introspective to recreate the long-ago miracle in Bethlehem.
“I Bring You Tidings of Great Joy” (folksong “Lord Rendal”, Somerset) is a greeting! God reaches down to a waiting and hoping world. An angel’s voice from a darkened Judean sky, solemn and glorious, brings forth the first words of Godspell. There is a change of mood in the music as the liturgy proceeds to tell of our deep longing and searching for God.
Shepherds come to find the Christ Child.O sancta simplicitas! O holy simplicity! Ancient shepherds, men of God’s sweet Earth, come in haste to find Mary and Joseph, with the Babe lying in the manger.
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (Melchior Teschner c. 1613) is a paraphrase of Psalm 72.
Three great kings from the East, powerful men of politics and worldly affairs, follow their destinies to the Christ that has been foretold. Their splendor is dimmed by the Child’s radiance. They humble themselves in awe and kneel reverently.
“Kings to Thy Rising” is based on the French carol “Tryste Noel.” The arrangement by Frank Levy suggests the swaying of marching camels.
“We Three Kings” is the only wholly American element in the Boar’s Head.
The World Joins the Kings and the Shepherds
From everywhere, people are drawn to the Christ Child. They bring a diversity of gifts yet the same spirit. In the festival’s climax, God comes down to his people. They reach up to God.
God’s ultimate gift, his only begotten Son, has come to earth. From this reverent moment, the companies melt away, leaving only His essence, a burning light, the symbol that He has come.
Orchestral Postlude and The Yule Sprite Returns
As at the beginning, a tiny sprite enters the church. The sprite joins the Dean at the altar, and together they carry the light out into the world. Christ is the Light of the World.