Celebrating the Boar's/Bore's Head at Bethesda-by-the-Sea

Disclaimer: in posting this, I feel like Sarah Hey at StandFirm did when she posted this gem: “I’m sorry.  I was unable to resist.”

So with that out of the way we come to this, from the Shiny Sheet:

The 33rd annual Boar’s Head will have two performances at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda by-the-Sea, 141 S. County Road. The public is invited and a donation of $15 will be collected at the door.

The centuries-old pageant symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.

I always think of the homonym for the “Boar’s Head,” and that just leapt at me when I read this:

The late Rev. Hunsdon Cary, rector of Bethesda from 1968-81, introduced the festival to the church in 1978. The pageant has run every year since, except in 2000, when the church was having a new organ installed.

Dr. Cary was rector most of the time I was at Bethesda.  Long before he started this festive occasion, the “Bore’s Head” was celebrated most Sundays.

And, sad to say, Bethesda wasn’t the last church where I celebrated the Bore’s Head on a regular basis…

P.S. The Church Mouse resale shop, today an institution in Palm Beach, was also started during Dr. Cary’s time at Bethesda, although his initial support was, to say the least, less than enthusiastic.

3 Replies to “Celebrating the Boar's/Bore's Head at Bethesda-by-the-Sea”


    PALM BEACH, FL (January 6, 2012) – A Perennial Holiday Favorite returns with the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach Sunday, January 8, 2012 with performances at 2:30 and 4:30 PM. The festival presents a medieval London Lord Mayor’s Boar’s Head banquet, complete with Beefeaters, Palm Beach Pipes & Drums, Lords & Ladies, strolling singers, instrumentalists, sprites, shepards, huntsmen, pages, jesters, dancers, and parishioners. With over 160 cast members, the performance is a re-enactment of the sacred songs and telling of the Christmas and Epiphany story, carrying forth the light of Christ’s birth to all people.

    An epiphany is a revelation and a climax of the Advent/Christmas Season. The Twelve Days of Christmas are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. Western churches celebrate the Epiphany season as it marks the moment when the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to deliver gifts to Christ, therefore revealing to the world that he was the Lord. The Boar’s Head is a mixture of old English and Christian tradition where favorite Christmas Carols, fantastic costumes and performances celebrate the joy of the holiday season and the Twelve Days of Christmas.

    WHAT: Bethesda-by-the-Sea’s Annual Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival.

    WHERE: The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, located at 141 South Country Road at Barton Avenue, Palm Beach (just south of The Breakers Hotel)

    WHEN: Sunday, January 8th, 2:30 PM and again at 4:30 PM

    TICKETS: Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A suggested donation of $15 will be collected at the door

    INFO: http://www.bbts.org or by calling 561-655-4554

    The History of the Boar’s Head Festival:

    An ancient legend serves as the basis for this Festival: an Oxford University student, while strolling in the forest reading the works of Aristotle, was charged by a wild and raging boar. The student, quick thinking, thrust his volume of Aristotle into the throat of the boar, putting an end to this deadly threat.

    After the telling of this tale, the head of the boar was borne into a feast at Oxford. The celebration for the student’s life came to represent the overcoming of brute force with reason. When the Church adapted the Festival, it gained a new, profoundly Christian significance: the boar’s head, symbolic representation of evil, is overcome by good through the teachings of Christ (symbolized by light). Thus, Christ becomes the snare for evil.

    The Festival we know today originated at Queen’s College, Oxford, England in 1340. By 1607 an expansive ceremony was in use at St. John’s College, Cambridge, England. The boar’s head was decorated with flags and greenery sprigs to be carried in state to the strains of the Boar’s Head carol. The Festival included lords, ladies, knights, historical characters, cooks, hunters, pages, Yule log, plum pudding and mince pie. Eventually, Good King Wenceslas, shepherds and wise men were added to tell the Nativity story. Persecuted French Huguenot Protestants who had learned this custom while exiled in England brought this ceremony to colonial America near Troy, New York. In 1888 a descendent established this ceremony at the Hoosac Episcopal School. Here Rev. Burroughs first saw it. He brought it to Cincinnati in 1939 and gave it a church setting. From a light and mellow celebration, it has evolved to a profoundly moving experience, for participants and spectators alike.


  2. I would like to do the festival at my Episcopal church. Where can I get information on how to produce the festival? Is there a book on the Boar’s Head Festival that I can order?


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