Boar's Head Feast

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The Boar's Head Feast is probably the oldest continuing festival of the Christmas season.



This pageant is rooted in ancient times when the boar was sovereign of the forest. A ferocious beast, and menace to humans, it was hunted as a public enemy. At Roman feasts, boar was the first dish served.[citation needed] Roasted boar was a staple of medieval banquets. As Christian beliefs overtook pagan customs in Europe, the presentation of a boar's head at Christmas came to symbolize the triumph of the Christ Child over sin.

Queen's College

The festival we know today originated at Queen's College, Oxford, England. Legend has it that a scholar was studying a book of Aristotle while walking through the forest on his way to Midnight Mass. Suddenly, he was confronted by an angry wild boar. Having no other weapon, the resourceful Oxonian rammed his metal-bound philosophy book down the throat of the charging animal, whereupon the brute choked to death. That night the boar's head, finely dressed and garnished, was borne in procession to the dining room, accompanied by carolers singing "in honor of the King of bliss."

St. John's College

By 1607, an expansive ceremony was in use at St. John's College, Cambridge, England. There, the boar's head was accompanied by "mustard for the eating" and decorated with flags and sprigs of evergreen, bay, rosemary and holly. It was carried in state to the strains of the Boar's Head Carol.

By then the traditional Boar's Head Festival had grown to include lords, ladies, knights, historical characters, cooks, hunters, and pages. Eventually, shepherds and wise men were added to tell the story of the Nativity. The whole was embellished with additional carols, customs and accoutrements. Mince pie and plum pudding, good King Wenceslas and his pages, a yule log lit from the last year's ember ... all found a place and a symbolic meaning in the procession.

Hurstpierpoint College

At Hurstpierpoint College, 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, Oxford. 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.


This was the ceremony brought to Colonial America by early British settlers and French Huguenots who had learned of the custom during a period of exile in England. They settled in New York, and were closely connected with the Episcopal Church and its universities. They established the festival as an annual Christmas observance. In 1926, the New York Evening Post described the Boar's Head as a "complex and rich tapestry" of "exquisite melodies."

One well known festival in the United States is the one at Christ Church Cathedral in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. In this highly theatrical festival, hundreds of parishioners, musicians and actors march, dance and sing as the Yule log is cut and the boar's head is marched through the cathedral.

University Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Fort Worth, Texas. Inaugurated in 1977, its 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.

Started in 1980 and now presented every four years, the Boar's Head Festival in Grosse Ile MI results from the combined efforts of five churches and involves over 600 community members in cast and production. The Festival includes the Christmas story, the Twelve Days of Christmas presented as a song, dance and acting routine, and various choral and orchestral presentations. The arrival of the King and Queen of the realm, the presentation of the Boar's Head and the Yule log ceremony are all re-enacted during the festival. The pre-festival usually includes puppeteers, juggler, magician, and various costumed characters interacting with the audience. The Festival is presented six times in December.

Since 1983, First Christian Church in Corpus Christi, Texas has put on the Boar's Head and Yule Log festival every January. They celebrated their 30th year of performances on the 7th of January, 2012 with the involvement of over 250 cast, crew, musicians and technicians and with the attendance of over 2,000 audience members. It is a beloved and highly respected yearly tradition in the Coastal Bend area of Texas with people traveling from far and wide to line up and attend this free extravaganza.


From the beginning, certain traditions have shaped the Boar's Head Feast. Every aspect must be authentic to the 14th century. A church service must be always be directly involved. The feast usually takes place during the Twelve Days of Christmas. The food in the ceremony must be homemade, this includes mince pie and plum pudding. If a boar cannot be used, a hog's head is dressed to represent the boar. It is roasted and garnished, but not eaten.

Adaptation is also a part of the tradition. At first, following the English custom, there were only men and boys involved. Today women join in the ceremony, dressed in historical costumes of the 14th century. In England during the Second World War, the feast was reduced to a sermon and traditional Christmas carols. However, this was changed during the early 1950s.

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