Merry Christmas! Have a Boar’s Head!
I was looking for another Christmas post, and realized I hadn’t done my annual making fun of Christmas songs. So I looked up some on Wikipedia, figuring I’d find a few traditional carols along with standard irritating favorites like Frosty the Freaking Snowman. Instead I found (along with messages begging me to give to Wikipedia – yeah right) a bunch of supposed songs I had never heard of, songs that were not just annoying but a special kind of weird you can only get from really old songs. Like really olde.
Here’s a few titles.
“Adam Ley Ybounden” – song from the 15th century which translates to, roughly “Hey Adam, ye boundin’ over to see Jesus?”
“Bethlehem Down” – not that old a song, sung in the Anglican church, probably means something important, but I can’t help thinking of football.
“The Cherry Tree Carol” – song in which George Washington chops down a cherry tree, and makes up for it by building a manger. Or something.
“Children Go Where I Send Thee” – To bed. Go to bed. Now.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” – like I know you’re Jesus, but could you GET here already?
“The Friendly Beasts” – Like the cows in the manger? Chickens? Wolves? Squirrels?
“Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” – wait, wasn’t He chopped down in that carol earlier? Oh, that was cherries, now it makes sense.
“Past Three O’Clock” – We’re still waiting, Jesus.
But there was one carol that stood out enough for me to actually click on it rather than make up stuff. Just so you know. Not made up.
It’s got a whole story, guys. A long, longe tyme ago, like medieval times, those silly Ango-Saxons used to sacrifice a boar to Freyr in ancient Norse tradition and then bring its head into the banquet hall with an apple in its mouth to scare the crap out of their wives! Just kidding, they ate it. St. Stephen stole the tradition, on the feast of Stephen I’m guessing, and gave it to King Wenseslas. Later on we decided that was a lot of trouble and substituted ham instead. So think of that next Christmas dinner. If not for our laziness, we could still be eating boar head.
But it gets better. In more modern times, like 1800s, William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic Society (it is my goal in life to become librarian to a scared society of harmonicas), wrote about the tradition. He said, and I quote whatever the great Wikipedia quoted:
“Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar’s head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar’s throat, crying, “Græcum est,” and fairly choked the savage with the sage.”
Translated: Some dude forgot to do his homework, and made up an awesome story about choking a boar with his textbook. Cause what college student hasn’t wanted to do that, especially if he had to read about Aristotle? I’m not sure I’d have been in a happy presence of mind if a boar attacked me and all I had for defense was a textbook. On the other hand, if we are talking about an English textbook, then that probably could choke a wild beast. I’ve had to carry those suckers around, so I know.
What makes this storye (my Olde English professor would have strangled me by now, for soothe) better is that the tradition is still carried on in various parts of the world. Back to Wikipedia!
“Queen’s College celebrates the tradition by three chefs bringing a boar’s head into hall, with a procession of a solo singer who sings the first verse, accompanied by torch bearers and followed by a choir. The procession stops during verses and walks during the chorus. The head is placed on the high table and the Provost distributes the herbs to the choir and the orange from the Boar’s mouth to the solo singer.”
You crazy Brits! But wait, we Yanks do it too – in Ft. Worth, Texas? Why, yes! So sayeth Wikipedia “Inaugurated in 1977, this Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival features a cast of 300 magnificently costumed characters, live animals, orchestra, pipe organ, bell choir and the congregation’s renowned Chancel Choir.” I gotta say, I share a state with Ft. Worth and have heard about it a lot, but never about the 300 costumed characters, live animals, orchestra, etc. Wow. Way to be far out, Ft. Worth! You can also find celebrations of this in Georgia and Tennessee. And you thought we Southerners couldn’t get down!
No word on whether these celebrations and processions still celebrate the tradition of tossing a textbook into a wild animal’s mouth, but I really think they should. It’s not like you get any money back for your books anyway, or like most students even crack them open, so tossing them at an animal would be a lot of fun. Not to mention goode olde traditional values.