Cincinnati 2011 Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival Review Cincinnati 2011 Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival Review

Cincinnati 2011 Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival Review

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I became familiar with The Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival last year when our local paper wrote about acquiring tickets. This sounded like a performance I had to see. Unfortunately, I was unable to go downtown to get the tickets. They are first come first serve, and you have to get them in person about three weeks before the show dates, but they are FREE tickets.

So this year, I was so excited to be able to get tickets. I have lived in Cincinnati all my life and have never heard about the Boar’s Head, neither have about a dozen people we asked. It has been going on for 72 years here in Cincinnati! It takes place at Christ Church Cathedral located on East Fourth Street. We don’t head downtown (unless we absolutely have to), so we were unfamiliar with the church as well. It was a very nice and cozy church. It incorporates features like the stained glass windows from the original church that was erected in 1835!

So what exactly is the Boar’s Head Festival? The festival is rooted in ancient times (1340) when the boar was sovereign of the forest. A ferocious beast and menace to humans, it was hunted as a public enemy. At Roman feasts, boar was the first dish served. Like our Thanksgiving turkey, roasted boar was a staple of medieval banquets. As Christian beliefs overtook pagan customs in Europe, the presentation of a boar’s head at Christmas came to symbolize the triumph of the Christ Child over sin.

From the beginning, certain traditions have shaped the Christ Church Cathedral Boar’s Head. Every aspect must be authentic to the 14th century. The Dean must always be directly involved. Performances always take place the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which is the epiphany season. The food in the ceremony must be homemade. This includes the vast mince pie and plum pudding, which are always eaten by the cast after the final performance. With boars being in short supply in the forests of Cincinnati, a hog’s head is dressed to represent the boar. It is roasted and garnished, but not eaten.

I was able to go behind the scenes at The Boar’s Head to see what happens. We arrived about an hour before showtime, and everyone was putting their final touches to their costumes, they were all eating as well! I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I was only able to get a few pictures.

Getting Ready:

Cincinnati Boar's Head Festival Review

Behind the Scenes:

Cincinnati Boar's Head Festival ReviewCincinnati Boar's Head Festival Review

Cincinnati Boar's Head Festival Review

 Watch a Video Clip: The Boar’s Head Carol, a Traditional 16th Century Song

The pageant begins as a gong sounds the hour… I brought my two older kids, 12 and 8, along with my husband. While there is a lot to look at since it is fast-paced, I could count on my two hands the number of kids that were there. While kids are welcome, I think that next time, this would be an excellent outing for just adults. Maybe with dinner afterward around the corner at Trattoria Roma {Hint Hint Hubby}.

The performance was outstanding. Like I stated, this was our first time to attend, so we weren’t quite sure what we were in for. I loved the music! There were a choir and orchestra in the back on the top balcony. Something I liked was when the performers entered the church; they would walk up one side and then down the other and in the center aisle. So you had a chance to see everyone and everything that was going on. So even if you sit in the back, you were able to check everything out. The performers didn’t just stay in the front of the church, which would have made it difficult to see.

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The best is when the Waits (a medieval term for watchmen) came in. The lights came on, and they danced all over the place. And I do mean all over! They jumped into my husband’s lap, walked over the pews, and sat down next to people that were seated. It was amusing and got a rise out of my kids. The only part that I didn’t like was when the Three Kings walked around, and they were burning frankincense. If you have never smelled it, it can leave quite an odor. Legend has it that each of the King’s Crowns has a real gem in it, but no one knows which one it is!

This was quite a treat for me, even if the kids and a hubby weren’t too thrilled to be there (they did miss part of the Liberty Bowl), so for that, I thank them. But I will definitely make this part of a new yearly tradition!


I had a chance to ask Bob Beiring, the Boar’s Head Director a few questions:

Q: Is it true that they only rehearse the day before they perform?

A: We only have only one rehearsal, and that is on the day of the first performance, making it the true “Miracle on 4th Street” 🙂  With a cast of 170, and a choir and orchestra of 70, and another 100 helping backstage, it becomes impossible to get this many people together at Christmas time other than the day of the first performance.  Our secret is that the production “evolves” with only minor changes, and 80% of the cast have been in it before.  After 33 years of directing the BH, I know it works out under any circumstances, even in the timing of a “perfect storm” of New Year’s Eve/ Day and the Bengal competition.

Q: Who is the longest-running cast member?

 A: Phil Hagner, a long-standing parishioner, has the record of 65 years of participation, raising from the tiny 5-year-old sprite through the roles to a Beefeater in today’s cast.  Many people have 50 years, including me.  We have one family with four generations of continuous participation, with great-grandmother Betty Gabbard of Fort Thomas, and a son, grandson, and great-granddaughter Grace Gabbard, as a King’s page, all a part of this performance.

Q: Why does the performance run after Christmas, since it is about the birth of Christ.

A: We consider the Boar’s Head an Epiphany pageant, with the timing of the three Wise Men arriving in the 12 days after Christmas, and thus our timing of the week after Christmas.

The Performance:

Chief Ministrel Boars Head Festival Cincinnati - The Review Wire

Boars Head Festival Cincinnati - The Review WireBoars Head Festival Cincinnati - The Review Wire

The Dean & Spirit

Cincinnati | Boars Head Festival Review

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The Waits

Cincinnati | Boars Head Festival Review

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The Boar’s Head

Cincinnati | Boars Head Festival Review

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I want to thank the Christ Church Cathedral, for allowing me the chance to see this performance. And hats off to all the performers who did a magnificent job! Make sure to visit The Boar’s Head Festival website for this year’s performance dates!

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2 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Bob Beiring
    January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Dena: Thanks for your interest and great story on the Boar’s Head Festival. As you could see, the whole Cathedral enjoys putting this on as our gift to the city. Thanks again for being a part of it. Bob Beiring

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