Boar's Head Feast

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


This pageant is rooted in ancient times when the boar was sovereign of the forest. A ferocious animal, 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 carollers singing "in honour of the King of bliss."

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.

In the U.S.

This ceremony was 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."[citation needed]

The oldest continuous festival in the United States has been held annually at Hoosac School, an Episcopal Boarding School in Hoosick, New York, where it is referred to as the "Boar's Head & Yule Log" festival, and has been held annually for over 120 years. Another well known festival in the United States is at Christ Church Cathedral, in 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.

In 1960, Episcopal Bishop Nelson M. Burroughs, brought the Boar's Head Festival from Christ Church, Cincinnati, to Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, with a similar grant of permission. It has been presented as a gift to the people of Cleveland since then, every Christmas season, (except 3). The year 2012 was the 50th presentation year, and 2016, will be the 54th.

Henricus Historical Park

One of the oldest sites of English settlement in North America (1611) to observe the Boar's Head Feast is Henricus Historical Park in Chesterfield, Virginia. The site's staff revived the celebration in 2015 as a mid-December Yuletide event with a 10-course feast of period foods, including a roasted suckling pig for the boar. Singers, mummers, and revellers in period attire entertain patrons throughout two separate evenings. The Feast has become the hallmark Christmas event for the historic site, attracting a lively following.

Other U.S. Locations

Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan has presented a Boar's Head Festival during the first weekend in December since 1977. Based on the presentation at Christ Church, Cincinnati, the festival is a campus tradition, involving over 150 faculty, staff, students, local school children, and members of the community. This performance contains continuous music, the story is sung through individual solos (Boars Head Carol, Good King Wenceslas), the Concordia Choir, and the audience. The spectacle is enlivened by the court jester, court dancers, the Concordia Recorder Consort, and the magnificent Schlicker pipe organ.

Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia celebrates the Boar's Head Ceremony annually. "Boar's Head is held in the Conant Center on the first Friday in December. It begins with a procession of the members of Omicron Delta Kappa, in academic regalia, carrying a roasted boar's head on a litter. The procession is followed by a reading of the Boar's Head story. The rest of the celebration consists of a concert featuring the University Singers and the Concert Winds, the lighting of the holiday tree and a reception sponsored by the Oglethorpe Student Association. The armorial crest of General James Edward Oglethorpe, which depicts four boars' heads, serves as the inspiration for this annual tradition".[1]

Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina has had its own Boar's Head Ceremony. It is usually held in the week following Thanksgiving.

University Christian Church, affiliated with Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, has presented a Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival since 1975. The festival is elaborate and joyful, complete with period costumes and props, and a mix of handbells, organ and live orchestra.

Trinity United Methodist Church in Springfield, Massachusetts presents one of the longer and more involved renditions of the Boar's Head festival, complete with elaborate choreography and one or two newly composed pieces of music each year. Combined with the comedic "preparation festivities" which begin 45 minutes prior to the performance, the festival runs nearly two and a half hours. Members of the cast rehearse on a regular basis for nearly two months prior to performances.

Plymouth Congregational Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana has presented a Boars Head and Yule Log Festival during the last week of December since 1974. The performance has elaborate props, costumes and choreography for dancers with a large cast. The festival begins with a procession of Beefeaters leading out singing companies who enter bearing the Boar's Head. Bringing the head to the altar are the nobility, guards, huntsman, cook, servers, pages and players of the court. The Boar's Head Carol is sung, followed by Masters in this Hall as the court dances for their assembled guests. Songs continue with On this Day Earth Shall Ring, Good King Wenceslas, where the Lord of the Manor assumes the role of Wenceslas to convey a moral message to his people. This is followed by a Yule Log Procession while Deck the Halls and I Saw Three Ships is sung. The Wassailers come out to interact and celebrate with the audience. Following the court play, the Christmas story is told using angels, shepherds, three kings, Mary and Joseph. Songs during this section include Let Us Now Go Even unto Bethlehem, Shepherd's Pipe Carol, Born in Bethlehem, Kings to Thy Rising. The Christmas Story concludes with a rendition of Let All Mortal Flesh as the court returns to gather. The festival itself then concludes with the choir, actors and audience singing O Come All Ye Faithful.

University of Rochester

In 1934, the presidency of Benjamin Rush Rhees was waning and that of Alan Valentine was rising. Valentine, a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, helped to solidify this tradition at Rochester [2]. This American variant honors a professor and a club at the university each year hence [3]. The professor is responsible for the recounting of the tale of the boar, often at the expense of the students enrolled in their classes. The student club honored receives the head of the slain boar, the highest honor for that academic year. The feast has been held in numerous locations on the River Campus and has settled into the newly refurbished Richard Feldman Ballroom [4].

In Canada

The Boar's Head Feast tradition was brought to Canada in December 1910 by the members of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.Margaret McBurney, The Great Adventure; 100 Years at the Arts & Letters Club, pp 10 – 11 (Toronto, Malcolm Lester, 2012) and has been celebrated annually ever since. The ceremony begins with the entry of the costumed principals led by a Jester and including the traditional characters representing a Sergeant-at-Arms, a Knight Templar, a Philosophy Student, and attendant Medieval Ladies, Candle Bearers, Riders and a Chaplain. A grace is said in Latin, and a toast made to Her Majesty. After the main course is completed, the President accompanies the entry and presentation of the Flaming Christmas Pudding. The Feast concludes with the singing of The First Noel.

Other presentations of the Boar's Head festival can be found at:

  • Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut
  • Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Saginaw, Michigan[5]
  • Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Missouri[6]
  • Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky
  • The First Church of Winsted in Winsted, Connecticut[7]
  • Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York
  • Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio
  • St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania


From the beginning, certain traditions have shaped the Boar's Head Feast. A church service must be always be directly involved. The feast usually takes place during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Every aspect must be authentic to the 14th century; therefore, the food in the ceremony must be homemade, this includes mince pie and plum pudding, and 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.

See also


  1. ^ "Glossary of Oglethorpe Terms and Historical References". Oglethorpe University. Archived from the original on 30 March 2013. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "Alan Valentine". USA Rugby. Retrieved 2017-12-02. 
  3. ^ "Boar's Head Dinner goes back to 16th century for one night". NewsCenter. 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-12-02. 
  4. ^ "Boar's Head Dinner goes back to 16th century for one night". NewsCenter. 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-12-02. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-31. Retrieved 2014-10-31. 
  7. ^

External links

  • The Queen’s College, Oxford
  • St. John's College, Cambridge
  • The Legend of the Boar
  • Hurstpierpoint College
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