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The whole hog
Plymouth Church’s annual Boar’s Head Festiva
By Eddie Torres
Fort Wayne Reader
Beefeaters — those iconic guardsmen in their eye-catching red uniforms — are probably the first images that come to mind when you think of Plymouth Congregational Church’s annual Boar’s Head Festival, one of the most popular holiday events in Fort Wayne.
This season marks the 40th anniversary of Plymouth’s Boar’s Head Festival. There are several Boar’s Head Festivals that take place throughout the United States, but it’s a Christmas tradition that dates back quite a ways.
It was a medieval festival that was celebrated at Queen’s College in Oxford, England back in the 1340s, and which, in turn, was based on an even older tradition. Once upon a time, the boar was the nastiest, ugliest, most feared creature crashing its way through the English countryside. It came to symbolize evil, so traditionally, hunters would kill the boar and present its head to their feudal lord as part of a feast and as a sign that evil had been vanquished and goodness reigned. The ceremony became part of a religious tradition celebrated around Christmas time.
The tradition was eventually adapted by the Episcopalian Church, and made its way to colonial America. Its modern incarnation dates to sometime in the 1930s, and came to Fort Wayne Plymouth Church in the early 70s.
And the basics of Plymouth’s Boar’s Head Festival haven’t changed all that much in the last four decades. Several years ago, artistic director Jim Schmidt told us that beyond refurbishing costumes, the structure and look of the festival is pretty much set, with the staging and music remaining the same through the years. “We’ve chosen to keep it in the church. Even though the opportunity to move it some place larger is feasible, we think it’s important to keep it in our sanctuary,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt explained that there are two parts to the festival. The first part is secular, where the boar’s head is presented to the lord of the manor. This is the part that features all the medieval pageantry — the lords and ladies, the jester, the medieval players, the servants and peasants and, of course, the Beefeaters.
“And from there it goes into the sacred story of the birth of Jesus and the re-telling of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem,” Schmidt said. “In the end, everyone returns to the manger, both the wise men and the peasant and the lord and jester and everyone to make the connection for all of us.”
Plymouth holds its Boar’s Head Festival in the week after Christmas, a time when the shopping is done, the big meals are finished, the pace is a little less frantic… in short, a time that’s maybe more conducive to reflecting on the true spirit of Christmas.
Tickets to the Boar’s Head Festival are free — the festival is supported by patrons and whatever is collected by the freewill offering — but you do need a ticket to get in, and they’re usually snapped up pretty quickly.
The Boar’s Head Festival
Plymouth Congregational Church
501 West Berry
December 28 (Saturday); 29 (Sunday); 30 (Monday) at 5:30 and 8 PM each evening
Tickets are FREE and available now. Limited seating. Call (260) 423-9424.