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:

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

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]

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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]