The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boars Head Carol, 2012

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

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.
        Caput apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.

The Boar's Head, as I understand,
Is the bravest dish in all the land,
When thus bedeck'd with a gay garland,
    Let us servire cantico.
        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.
        Caput apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.

Editor's Note:

Very little has changed since the 1921 versions given by Greene and Magrath, The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I, but there are a few words that are different. The two words and phrases that seem to be rotated among the versions over the centuries occur in the first and second verses: "bravest" vs. "rarest" and "masters" vs. "my masters." In today's version, as nearly as I can tell, the word "bravest" is retained, and the phrase "my masters" is now favored.

As I am neither a student at Queen's nor an "Old Member," my source is the Boar's Head Christmas Card that is (seasonally) available through the University of Oxford online store. I would have ordered a package of cards — and will attempt to do so next winter — but for the time being I had to rely upon the scan of the card that is found on the Queen's College website.

The card sold most recently in 2012 at the University of Oxford store, on behalf of Queen's College, had the following text on the back of the card:

The Boar’s Head Ceremony, originally held on Christmas Day, can be traced back to the fourteenth century (a payment for wild boar appears in the College accounts for 1395-6). It commemorates the killing of a boar by a student of Queen’s, John Copcot, who, whilst reading Aristotle in Shotover Forest, is traditionally supposed to have been attacked by the animal. ‘Swallow that if you can,’ cried the student, thrusting the volume down the boar’s throat. ‘Græcum est,’ cried the boar, which expired, having found Aristotle too hard to digest. At an annual dinner just before Christmas, a boar’s head is carried into the dining hall followed by the College Choir which sings the traditional Boar’s Head Carol.

See: The Boar's Head Christmas Card at the University of Oxford Shop: "Sold for £6 in packs of ten, these Christmas cards depict the traditional Boar’s Head Carol which is sung each year at the Boar’s Head Gaudy. The greeting inside reads ‘Merry Christmas’ and information about the Boar’s Head Ceremony appears on the back of the card." This is the card that was sold in 2012, but it is not known whether this card will be offered in 2013. As of March 27, 2013, the card was not for sale.

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