Scripture Verse

Let us eat, and be merry. Luke 15:23


Words: 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 (1814–1887), Lib­ra­ri­an to the Sac­red Har­mo­nic So­ci­ety, writes about the tra­di­tion in his 1868 Songs of the Na­ti­vi­ty Be­ing Christ­mas Ca­rols, An­cient and Mo­dern:

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.

Music: Med­ie­val ca­rol (🔊 pdf nwc).


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.


Bringing in the Boar’s Head
J. Gilbert, 1855


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


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


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


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