Medieval Christmas festivities were celebrated with elaborate feasts, performances and games, throughout the season. One such Yuletide tradition was the Roasted Boar’s Head Feast, those with the means would have a boar’s head pickled, stuffed with forcemeat, roasted and then gilded with gold leaf, served on a platter with a fruit (orange/apple) in it’s mouth surrounded by herbs, delivered with a performance of musicians and entertainers creating a grand ceremony as it was presented to the head of the household.

The Boar was a much sought after and a highly dangerous animal to hunt, and traditions associated with the boar are many throughout the ages but by the middle ages in England it was near extinction and the feast had been anglicised and Christianised with symbolic meaning.

As boars were hunted to extinction in England the pig replaced the boar as the traditional meat at Christmas to be replaced by the goose and the turkey, during the Puritanical period of the 17th Century many Christmas traditions went out of favour altogether, but some aspects of the Boars Head Festival survive, represented on our modern Christmas menus as dishes like ‘pigs in blankets’ and forcemeat stuffing.

The Boars Head Feast is still celebrated at Oxford University’s Queen’s College, known as the ‘Boar’s Head Gaudy’ where they sing the “Boar’s Head Carol” dating from the 15th century that describes the ancient tradition.

Boar’s Head Carol
The boar’s head in hand bring I,
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio (so many are feasting),
Caput apri defero Reddens laudes Domino (The boar’s head I carry giving praise 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 (serve with a song),
Caput apri defero Reddens laudes Domino (The boar’s head I carry giving praise to the Lord).

You can get the rest of the carol lyrics and find out more about the long standing traditions associated with Boars and the Boar’s Head Feast here: Boar’s Head Feast-FreeEncyclopeia

Image credit: Bringing in the boar’s head on Christmas Day. Illustration by George C Leighton c1850 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images