“Yet as with Christmas itself, Anglo-Catholicism and a great many other good things, Romanticism opened up the early 19th century to a rebirth of the Boar’s Head…”
“The boar’s head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all the land…”
But not so rare, it seems, as it once was!
“Despite the cosmopolitan origins of so much of our distinctly American manner of celebrating Our Lord’s birth, in the popular mind… England is seen as the Christmas country par excellence. And among its customs that we try to emulate – in addition to the aforementioned carols services and the yule log – is the Boar’s Head Festival…
“The late 19th and early 20th centuries in the US saw an explosion of Anglophilia among the ‘better classes’… In this atmosphere, Dr Edward Dudley Tibbits, an Episcopal priest, brought the Boar’s Head tradition in 1892 to the Hoosac School in upstate New York, which he had founded three years previously.”
It was picked up by a number of Episcopal churches and cathedrals, and from thence has spread: “it can now be found at Lutheran, Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches as well… In recent years, it has finally come to a few Catholic churches too.”
I have tended to think of the Boar’s Head Feast as a Twelfth Night (Eve of the Epiphany) custom; but in fact it was not, of old, limited to that occasion. As this article notes, “In medieval England, a highly decorated boar’s head was a centrepiece of Yuletide feasting in abbeys and great halls alike,” although it is true that “it is usually offered during the Twelve Days after Christmas, and so helps emphasise that magical liturgical period between Christmas and Epiphany.”
Like many ancient customs, it may also – as the article again notes – serve as a useful means of evangelization! Such an event may attract those who would be unlikely to darken the doors of a church, under other conditions. And in a jaded, secular, and gloomily (or sometime manically) self-referential age, ancient customs and traditions hold a good deal of appeal, for many, and this trend seems only likely to increase.
And if the seemingly secular jollity points to higher, sacred truths – as the Boar’s Head Feast points to Christmas, and thus, the Incarnation of God’s Incarnate Word in the Person of His Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ – so much the better! For, after all:
“Our steward hath provided this,
In honour of the King of Bliss…
Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino!”
(“The boar’s head I bear, giving praises to the Lord!”)