Hundreds, maybe thousands, of local residents have attended the Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church during the winter holidays. Far fewer Boar’s Head veterans realize that belonging to the Lafayette Hill congregation isn’t a prerequisite for participating in the annual production.
That said, organizers of the colorful Medieval pageant -- a narrative depiction of the push-pull between good and evil that concludes with a traditional Nativity tableau -- have put out a community casting call for its upcoming 39th anniversary shows on Jan. 11 at 1, 4 and 7 p.m. and Jan. 12 at 1 and 4 p.m.
Singers, dancers, actors and organizers say all types of volunteer performers are needed and welcome. Not comfortable being front and center? Behind the scenes production help is just as important, they stress, for everything from prop construction to parking control, not to mention manning the buffets needed to fuel the men, women and children who bring the Boar’s Head story to life through its multiple weekend retellings.
In short, pass the word, says St. Peter’s Music Director Sam Tarasenko.
“Please ask your friends, neighbors and family members to join us this year…in the choir, on stage or backstage,” he continues.
Tarasenko and Boar’s Head Director Kate Garrison emphasize the production is also inter-generational with, in some cases, three and four generations of a family involved as sprites and angels get too big for their bells and halos and assume more adult roles, dancers ease into less-strenuous positions and thespians opt for backstage duty.
“We particularly need children and teenagers,” Garrison says. “The little kids outgrow certain parts, like our wood-sprites. They graduate into other (parts), but we’re always on the lookout for new blood to help keep things fresh.”
The St. Peter’s spokesmen explain “the history of the Boar’s Head actually dates back to the Roman Empire, when the boar was the first dish served at Roman feasts. In Norman England, the boar was the sovereign of the great forests -- a menace to man and a symbol of evil. As a result, the serving of the boar’s head in the pageant represents the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil.”
Although that message has been at the heart of the production since its debut in 1980 -- the dream of the late Robert Rosenberge who was then the church’s organist -- many of its visual trappings have evolved. The signature boar’s head, for example. Four decades ago, it was the real thing -- on loan from a Lansdale-area hunter -- but was subsequently replaced with an “artificial” head constructed by Maria Dougherty.
A giant plum pudding -- a 50-pounder baked by James Knipe and enjoyed at closing night’s cast party -- also gave way to a fake.
Not surprisingly, the original 150-or-so costumes researched and designed by Kathryn Styles have faded and frayed, but over the years other costumers and seamstresses have picked up the task of restoring and re-imagining the richly-colored period gowns and garb worn by the lords and ladies, jesters and woodsmen, archers and shepherds, angels and wood sprites who inhabit the imaginary Medieval world created in the St. Peter’s sanctuary each January.
Rosenberger’s desire to use a live donkey to carry Mary never got off the ground.
None of which has detracted from the dreamy sights and sounds -- the latter provided by a full choir and orchestra and the Cameron Highland Pipe Band -- that are integral components of the unique spectacle former St. Peter’s Pastor Bruce Todd once described as “our gift to the community.”
St. Peter’s has been a community fixture since the 18th century.
The historic hilltop church was established by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in 1752, and its grounds were the site of an encampment by American troops under French General Lafayette in May 1778. As a marker erected on the grounds by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission notes: “From steeple of original church, May 20, 1778, Gen. Lafayette gave orders for battle against British in old churchyard. Here he organized his famous retreat to Matson Ford, saving himself and 2200 Continental troops from capture.”
St. Peter’s is located at 3025 Church Road, between Germantown and Ridge Pikes, Lafayette Hill. For additional information and volunteer Boar’s Head Festival sign-ups call 610-457-6618 Mon.-Fri., after 5 p.m. More details are available at www.stpeterslafayettehill.org.