Boar's Head Carol

Boar's Head Carol

The "Boar's Head Carol" is a macaronic 15th centuryHusk, William Henry. "Songs of the Nativity Being Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern." London: John Camden Hotten, 1868 reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973. Digitally reproduced and annotated by [ A Treasury of Christmas Carols: The Hymns and Carols of Christmas] ] Spears, James E. Folklore, Vol. 85, No. 3. (Autumn, 1974), pp. 194-198. [ JSTOR] ] song which may refer to one of several English Christmas carols that describes the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast. The modern version most usually performed is based on a version published in 1521 in Wynkyn de Worde's "Christmasse Carolles".

History and Origins

According to folklorists the boar's head tradition was:

"initiated in all probability on the Isle of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, although our knowledge of it comes substantially from medieval times.... [In ancient Norse tradition] sacrifice carried the intent of imploring Freyr to show favor to the new year. The boar's head with apple in mouth was carried into the banquet hall on a gold or silver dish to the sounds of trumpets and the songs of minstrels."

In Scandinavia and England, Saint Stephen may have inherited some of Freyr's legacy. His feast day is December 26 and thus he came to play a part in the Yuletide celebrations which were previously associated with Freyr. In old Swedish art, Stephen is shown as tending to horses and bringing a boar's head to a Yuletide banquet. [Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-6723-7. pp. 105-112.] Both elements are extracanonical and may be pagan survivals. Christmas ham is an old tradition in Sweden and may have originated as a winter solstice boar sacrifice to Freyr.

Modern Times

The Boar's Head Feast continues at The Queen's College, Oxford, England. William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harminic Society, wrote about the tradition in 1868 in his "Songs of the Nativity Being Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern":

Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar's head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar's throat, crying, "Græcum est,""With compliments of the Greeks."] and fairly choked the savage with the sage.

As of 2008, the tradition of processing with the Boar's Head whilst singing the carol was believed to be still observed at:
* The Queen's College, Oxford, England.
* Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex, England. Here, it has been observed annually almost since the College's foundation in 1849 and may have been imported by a Headmaster who was at Queen's College. It now takes place on the first Wednesday in December after a short service in Chapel for all, and heralds the feast which is held to acknowledge the work done by the College's Sacristans and Choir. The Boar's Head is carried on a platter carried by four Sacristans and preceded by the mustard pot carried by a fifth. The remainder of the Senior School lines the cloisters which form three sides of the Inner Quadrangle, the fourth being formed by the Chapel and Dining Hall. The lights are extinguished and the procession, its members carrying candles, moves from the east of the college through the cloisters lined by unusually silent students and back through the Chapel to the vestry.
* Stourbridge Old Edwardian Club, England. The Boar's Head supper has been celebrated on Christmas Eve since 1911. The Boar's Head, carried on a platter by the Club's President, is ceremonially presented to the members. After the welcome and seasonal greetings, a supper is served, which includes brawn-filled bread rolls.
* Reed College, Portland, Oregon, where a procession similar to the above has been performed every Christmas season for many years, with the Carol being sung by the processants.
* Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. [ The Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival] has been celebrated every year since 1940.
* Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia. An annual winter tradition for the university.
* St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island has held its annual Boar's Head procession since 1896 as part of its Christmas Festival.
* Immanuel Lutheran Church of St. Charles Missouri has held a Boar's Head Festival every December for over 25 years.
* Victoria University in the University of Toronto, Canada.
*Huntsville First United Methodist Church, located in downtown Huntsville Alabama in the southeastern United States. The Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival has been celebrated every Christmas for over fifty years.
* St. John's Northwestern Military Academy, Delafield, Wisconsin. This annual tradition is a highlight for the cadets and staff.

In the United States, the Boar's Head Carol and procession is often a part of madrigal dinner performances, even though the main dish is usually chicken.


The boar's head in hand bring I, (Or: The boar's head in hand bear I,)
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry (Or: And I pray you, my masters, merry be)
"Quot estis in convivio" (Translation: As many as are in the feast)

"Caput apri defero" (Translation: The boar's head I offer)
"Reddens laudes Domino" (Translation: Giving praises to the Lord)

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us "servire cantico". (Translation: Let us serve with a song)


Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
"In Reginensi atrio". (Translation: In the Queen's hall)


Lyrics, Music, And Translation

* [ THE BOAR'S HEAD CAROL: Queens College Version, Oxford, England] .


*King's Singers, "A Little Christmas Music" (EMI Angel, 1990)
*The Chieftains, "Bells of Dublin" (RCA, 1991)
*The Sixteen, "Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe" (Hyperion, 1993)
*Robert Shaw Festival Singers, "Songs of Angels: Christmas Hymns and Carols" (Telarc, 1994)
*Maddy Prior, "Ballads & Candles" (Park Records, 2000)
*Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band, "Carols & Capers" (Park Records, 1991)
*Veggietales, "A Very Veggie Christmas"


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