HARTFORD - Over the past four decades, Margaret Brest has celebrated the turning of the calendar year with familiar faces in the closed, comfortable confines of the tiny Orangeville United Methodist Church.
On Sunday, the church hosted its 40th annual "Celebration for Epiphany" Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival and, true to form, the 94-year-old Kinsman resident was on hand with family, friends and neighbors.
"I've never missed one of these," Brest said with a smile. "And, I just got out of the hospital, but I still made it."
From left, Jason McDowell, Tanner Hunt and David Stiver stand near the boar’s head during Sunday’s 40th annual “Celebration for Epiphany” Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at Orangeville United Methodist Church. photo by Ashley Newman
Brest wasn't alone, as the church drew a standing-room-only crowd for both the 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. performances.
This year's festival included the ceremonial Coming of the Yule Sprite, followed by the Boar's Head Procession. Each section of the pageant is accompanied by minstrels, Beefeaters, shepherds and, finally, the Three Kings.
All of the performers are dressed in 14th century period clothing, with the Hartford United Methodist Handbell Choir providing musical accompaniment with "Joy to the World," "New Year Carol," "The Shepherds' Carol," and others.
Gordon Vujevic, the founding director of the celebration, has seen many faces come and go, both as performers and spectators, but many of the surnames remain the same.
"It's fun to see sometimes a family's third generation come through here," Vujevic said.
The Orangeville United Methodist Church celebration is one of the oldest continuous festivals in the state, according to Vujevic.
"The oldest one is actually down at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati and they started around 1940, but ours is one of the oldest around," he said.
The festival dates back to the early 1600s in Cambridge, England, and is one of the oldest holiday season celebrations still being observed.
Some performers have been a part of the program for nearly its entire four-decade existence, including Ken Stafford of Kinsman, who has played Yeoman Warders for the past 39 years.
"Yeah, I missed that first one, but I've done all of the rest," he laughed. "They need help and, every year, there are different people taking part. I try to help the new people as much as I can."
The Orangeville festival is held on the second Sunday of January each year, event organizers said, which gives attendees consistency from year-to-year.
In order to keep the event together, the planning can be a yearlong job, organizer Shirley Barrickman of Vernon said, but the final result is worth the effort.
"It's an incredible thing for this community," Barrickman said. "But they'll probably start getting ready for next year as soon as this one is over. You get everything mended and put away and then start lining things up again.
"It takes time to do it the right way. I can't say enough about the job Gordon (Vujevic) does with this. He keeps it all together," she continued.
David Stiver of Parma makes the nearly two-hour drive to Orangeville each year to play the chief minstrel. He is a veteran performer in Boar's Head festivals around the state, but he called the event in Orangeville "very special."
"This is my 34th year doing it, I think," Stiver said. "I've done larger Boar's Head festivals and they're very nice. But there is something about this one that I really like. It's in this small church within a small community and they put on this spectacle."