The Boar’s Head Carol is a 15th century English carol that describes the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast. Of the several extant versions of the carol, the one most usually performed today is based on a version published in 1521 in Wynkyn de Worde’s Christmasse Carolles. According to folklorists, the boar’s head tradition was probably introduced into Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, although our knowledge of it comes substantially from medieval times ... In ancient Norse tradition sacrifice carried the intent of imploring Freyr to show favor to the New Year. The boar’s head with apple in mouth was carried into the banquet hall on a gold or silver dish to the sounds of trumpets and the songs of minstrels and is probably the forerunner of the traditional Christmas ham.
The boar’s head in hand bring I, (Or: The boar’s head in hand bear I,)
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, my masters, be merry (Or: And I pray you, my masters, merry be)
Quot estis in convivio (Translation: As many as are in the feast)
Caput apri defero (Translation: The boars head I bear)
Reddens laudes Domino (Translation: Giving praises 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. (Translation: Let us serve with a song)
Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio. (Translation: In the hall of Queen’s [College, Oxford])
This Mid-Winter Festival as our ancestors would have called it is the most magical and mystical time of the year and should be celebrated as such with all the pagan gusto we can summon. It is an ancient fire festival that heralds the shortest day of the year; an astronomical turning of the tide to announce the rebirth of the sun and the promise of warmth returning to the land. It was a time of long nights and short days. It was cold and dark and not a time to be venturing out. It was, therefore, the perfect time to feast and create artificial light and warmth – and look forward with hope to the return of the sun.
The Winter Solstice was immensely important because these ancient people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. The reasons for this are obvious – and demonstrate why the Mid-Winter Festival with all its trappings of feasting and plenty should remain one of the most important feasts in the pagan calendar – if only as a testament to those who didn’t make it through the long winter darkness. The festival was the last opportunity for feasting, before deep winter began; when a large proportion of the cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, and it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and also ready for drinking at this time.
Needless to say, Roman, Celt, Anglo-Saxon and Norse invaders also brought their Mid-Winter customs with them, and as they integrated with the native peoples, so these customs were melded into existing ones. The concentration of these observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but at the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous Eve.
Have A Cool Yule: How to Survive (& Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books. www.moon-books.net