boar's head

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Bringing in the boar's head, on a huge plate, was a potent symbol of old Christmas on a grand scale, popular with Victorian illustrators to evoke a Merrie England tradition. It survives at Queen's College, Oxford, but certainly existed elsewhere; for example at the Inns of Court, St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, and St John's College, Cambridge. At Oxford, the special ‘Boar's Head Carol’, first printed in 1521, and existing in numerous versions, is sung as the head is carried in on a silver platter decorated with rosemary, bay, and other plants (see Oxford Book of Carols, (1928), No. 19). One legend which explains the custom is that a student was once walking through the forest of Shotover, reading Aristotle as he walked, when he was attacked by a wild boar. With great presence of mind, he rammed the book into the open mouth of the advancing animal and thus choked it to death. There are many other references to boars at Christmas (e.g. Dyer, 1876: 470).

Dyer, 1876: 473–4;Wright and Lones, 1940: iii. 279.

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