The Boar’s Head

The boar’s head in hand bear I,
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio
(As many as are in the feast)

-English Traditional


Has it ever taken you years to understand the lyrics to a certain song?

I grew up listening to a carol that I thought was in a different language. While a few lines are in Latin, the rest is in plain English. Even so, I only deciphered the meaning of the song last year. The carol is The Boar’s Head, and it refers to the English custom, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, of serving a boar’s head at Christmastime. The head was placed on a silver platter and marched into the hall with music. When I first read about the custom last year, I resolved that this Christmas I would roast a boar’s head, bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.

I rested the head on a bed of onions, celery, apples, bays, rosemary, and thyme, and cooked it in a very low oven for several hours. The jowls release a lot (a lot!) of fat, which is good for frying bread as an accompaniment. The head finishes with very tender flesh and very hard crackling, and the whole mess is liberally salted and peppered. Good food for the longest night of the year, which we usually observe with heavy drinking.

Caput apri defero (The boar’s head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Giving praises to the Lord)

The boar’s head I understand
Is the rarest dish in all the land
And thus bedeck’d with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico (serve with a song).

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio (in the hall of the Queen)

A roasted pig head
An apple in the pig's mouth

A phenomenon that occasionally accompanies heavy drinking:
Snow angels: a solstice tradition