Let us eat, and be merry.@Luke 15:23
illustration
Bringing in the Boar’s Head
J. Gilbert, 1855

From Christmasse Carolles (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1521). This is a macaronic 15th Century English Christmas carol describing the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast. The Boar’s Head Feast continues at Queen’s College at Oxford University. William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harminic Society, writes about the tradition in his 1868 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.

Queen’s College celebrates the tradition by three chefs bringing a boar’s head into the 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.

Medieval carol (🔊 pdf nwc).

Chorus

Caput apri defero,1
Reddens laudes Domino!2

The Bore’s Heed in hande bryng I
With garlans gay and rosmary.
And I pray you all sing merely.
Qui estis in convivio!3

Chorus

The Bore’s Heed, as I understande
Is the chefe servyce in this lande;
Loke, wherever it be fande
Servite cum cantico!4

Chorus

Our stewarde hath provided this,
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be servèd is,
In Regimensi Atrio!5

Chorus

1The boar’s head I offer

2Giving praises to the Lord

3As many as are in the feast

4Let us serve with a song

5In the Queen’s hall