Boars & Butchers:
A Very Porky History of Winter Festivals
Sitting down to the traditional holiday ham this season? This week on The Feast, we're celebrating the unofficial animal of winter: the pig! Find out why a boar's head is the center of holiday traditions from London to Louisville. We'll learn a porcine Christmas carol, some tips on how to buy off the mayor of medieval London, & why an Oxford college still celebrates an epic 14th century battle of student vs. pig. Discover the distant & unexpected roots of the spiral-cut holiday ham this week on a very special porky holiday episode.
Written and Produced by Laura Carlson
Technical Direction by Mike Portt
A huge thanks to the community at St. Paul Methodist Church for their help with this episode. Tickets are still available for this year's Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival if you happen to be in the Louisville area. Get tickets here.
Want to learn more about Boar's Head traditions throughout the world?
Check out some of the videos below for a (rough) chronological view of the tradition in the US and England.
Medieval Boar's Head Traditions (14th century)
The Queen's College of Oxford University Boar's Head Gaudy
This Oxford college has held an annual dinner to commemorate an epic medieval battle between a student & a wild boar in the mid-1300s, considered to be one of the first recorded boar's head dinners in medieval England.
A Medieval Butchery Boar's Head Parade
In recognition of a medieval London statute to allow London butchers to wash their meat with Thames water, this company of butchers has presented the mayor of London with a (fake) boar's head every year since the mid-1300s.
Boar's Head Traditions in the USA
An Annual Student Dinner at the University of Rochester
The Oxford tradition of an annual boar's head dinner was adopted by many North American schools and universities in the late 19th century. The University of Rochester's Boar's Head Dinner has been held at the end of winter term since 1934, one of the longest running dinners of its kind in the United States. Each year a student club is given the boar's head in recognition of service to the university community.
The Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival at St. Paul Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky
Although many schools abandoned the annual winter boar's head dinner, many churches in the United States adopted the tradition in the 1960s and 1970s, transforming the dinner into a festive medieval-themed Christmas performance. With a new focus on singing, dancing, and a nativity play, these festivals are held throughout the Christmas season.