Boar’s Head Festival
Merry Olde England comes to life in this traditional celebration of the birth of Christ and the arrival of the wise men at the creche. Costume, dance, carols and a little comic mayhem are followed by the sumptuous banquet of roast pork in English herbs and vegetables.
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. 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.
The festival we know today originated at Queen’s College, Oxford, England in 1340. 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 lighted from the last year’s ember… all found a place and symbolic meaning in the procession.
Come join the mirth and merriment in our annual 12th Night Festival!