Boar's Head Carol

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The Boar's Head Carol is a macaronic 15th century[1][2] English Christmas carol that describes the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast. Of the several extant versions of the carol, the one most usually performed today is based on a version published in 1521 in Wynkyn de Worde's Christmasse Carolles.[1]

History and origins[edit]

Main article: Christmas ham

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." [2]

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 (or Ingwi to the Anglo-Saxons). In old Swedish art, Stephen is shown as tending to horses and bringing a boar's head to a Yuletide banquet.[3] 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[edit]

The Boar's Head Feast continues at The Queen's College, Oxford, England. William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic 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,"[4] and fairly choked the savage with the sage.[1]

Queen's College celebrates the tradition by three chefs bringing a boar's head into hall, with a procession of a solo singer who sings the first verse, accompanied by torch bearers and followed by a choir. The procession stops during verses and walks during the chorus. The head is placed on the high table and the Provost distributes the herbs to the choir and the orange from the Boar's mouth to the solo singer.[5]

As of 2008, the tradition of processing with the Boar's Head whilst singing the carol was believed still to be observed at:

  • The Queen's College, Oxford, England.
  • Netherthorpe School, Chesterfield, 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 since introduction by Rex Arragon via Oxford in the 1920s, with the Carol being sung by the processants. Hog Wild
  • Notting Hill & Ealing High School, England. Here, the Boar's Head itself is actually a fake made from papier mache. The GPDST council of 1911 declared this inappropriate, however the tradition is still enforced.
  • Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. The Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival has been celebrated every year since 1940.
  • Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, Maryville, Tennessee, every year on the Twelfth Night of Christmas
  • University Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Fort Worth, Texas. Inaugurated in 1977, this Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival features a cast of 300 magnificently costumed characters, live animals, orchestra, pipe organ, bell choir and the congregation's renowned Chancel Choir.
  • 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 since 1986.
  • Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Saginaw, Michigan has held a Boar's Head Festival annually since 1984.
  • Knox College in the University of Toronto, Canada. The procession takes place in the dark, and is the only occasion when candles are permitted to be lit in the historic building. A Bearer of the boar's head, along with singers, are selected by the music director of the Christmas formal dinner.
  • Victoria University in the University of Toronto, Canada.
  • The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY.
  • 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.
  • Queens University of Charlotte, Charlotte, NC holds the Boar's Head Banquet every year as a part of university tradition. 2008 will be the 76th annual Boar's Head.
  • Hoosac School, Hoosick, New York. The Boars Head & Yule Log Festival has been held at this upstate boarding school each year for more than 100 years.
  • Concordia University, Ann Arbor hosts an annual Boar's Head Festival. 2008 marks the 31st year the festival has been performed.
  • Plymouth Congregational Church, Fort Wayne, IN, [1] hosts an annual Boar's Head Festival. 2009 marked the 35th year the festival has been performed.
  • Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada. Dec 2008 was the 59th annual observance.
  • First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Corpus Christi, TX has celebrated the festival since 1982.
  • Gonzaga College Dublin the senior choir has traditionally sung the Boar's Head Carol after the solemn Christmas Eve Midnight Mass held at the College Chapel. On Christmas Eve 2008 the Schola (inner choir) initiated an impromptu rendition on the steps of the College to maintain the tradition after the Carol had strangely been dropped from the service.
  • Our Savior Lutheran Church, Louisville, KY, has put on a Boar's Head Festival for several years now.

As of 2010, the tradition of processing with the Boar's Head whilst singing the carol is still observed at:

  • Camlann Medieval Village, Carnation, WA, at all Christmas Yule Feasts from Nov-Jan.
  • 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.
  • Notting Hill & Ealing High School, England.
  • The Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. The song is sung each year during the presentation of the boar by the underclassman at the schools "Senior Pageant." The tradition has been kept since the founding of the school, and all male seniors and alumni are allowed to attend. The pageant was modeled after the English tradition.
  • Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia. An annual winter tradition for the university.
  • Orchard House Christmas Dinner at Millfield School, Somerset, England.
  • Worshipful Company of Cutlers, London, England

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.

Lyrics[edit]

The tune for A Carol Brynging in the Bore's Heed

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A multitrack recording of The Boar's Head Carol

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The boar's head in hand bring I, (Or: The boar's head in hand bear I,)
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary.
And 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)

CHORUS
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)

CHORUS

Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginesi atrio. (Translation: In the hall of Queen’s [College, Oxford])

CHORUS


There is also an alternate version of the same song with lyrics modified to fit poultry being served, replacing "The boar's head in hand bring I" with "The fowl on the platter see", and "The boar's head, as I understand/Is the rarest dish in all this land" with "This large bird, as I understand/Is the finest dish in all this land".

Recordings[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Husk, 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
  2. ^ a b Spears, James E. Folklore, Vol. 85, No. 3. (Autumn, 1974), pp. 194-198. JSTOR
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "With compliments of the Greeks."
  5. ^ Boar's Head Carol. Christmas-Carols.org.uk. Accessed December 8th 2009

The Druids, Burnt Offering (Argo 1971)

External links[edit]