Boar's Head Dinner
The Boar's Head Dinner is one of the University's oldest annual traditions, and was first celebrated on December 17, 1934.
The idea for the Medieval-themed student feast at Rochester is said to have originated with Theodore Fitch (Class of 1935) and Mrs. Adele Bostwick (Head Dietitian in Todd Union, probably the equivalent today of the Director of Dining Services).
Throughout its history, the event has been student run, with faculty and special guests invited to sit at the head table and with the students, often acting as carvers when the dinner included whole roasts.
Black bean soup, pork roasts, and flaming plum puddings were standard fare, and until changes in the drinking age, beer or ale was also served. In 1976, some 210 gallons were reportedly consumed.
The first location for the dinner was formal dining room in Todd Union. Currently the performance space for the International Theatre Program, the room has large fireplaces and windows facing the river.
The dining tables were actually "table-benches": the table-top tilts up to reveal a bench. Pushed up against the walls, these provided ample seating during the many dance parties held in the space, which was also known as Todd West.
You can see the last of the table-benches in Rush Rhees Library, outside the front doors of Special Collections.
With the construction of what is now called the Frederick Douglass Building, the dinner moved to a larger space and more students could be accommodated. In 2017, the room was named to honor then Dean of the College Richard Feldman.
Singing has always been a consistent feature: the waitstaff is drawn from the student a capella singing groups, and for a time, the music was provided by Eastman School of Music students.
The singing includes carols and other holiday favorites, but most prominent is the Song of the Boar's Head, and is sung at the presentation of dinner's "featured" guest to the members of the head table. The lyrics, which first appeared in printed form in 1521 include text in both English and Latin. It begins:
"The Boar's Head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary."
The students of the College for Women had their own Boar's Head Ceremony, held in Stephen Foster Hall on the Prince Street Campus.
The women's Boar's Head celebration appears to have been relatively short-lived, becoming a more general Christmas dinner with carols and other ceremonies. This ritual continued after the women moved to the River Campus in 1955, and lasted into the 1970s.
An advertisement in the 1969 Campus Times notes that the Boar's Head Dinner was "for men only."
In 1970, women students were "allowed" to participate as "beermaids," not guests.
The following year, a letter appeared in the CT pointed out the exclusivity of the event and the inadequate evidence presented by the student organizers in trying to demonstrate that women were not prohibited from attending. By 1972 there were some women in attendance, and gradually, the behavior of the male attendees improved from its notoriously boorish levels.
The raucousness included stealing the Boar's Head (usually by fraternities vying with each other for the "honor"). This became so disruptive that in 1992 then-University Dean of Students Paul Burgett decided that the boar's head should be omitted from the festivities.
A wonderful outcome resulted however: two fraternities asked to start a new tradition, and thus the ceremony of the Passing of the Boar, through which one student group honors another, replaced the brazen thievery.
The origin story behind the dinner is of course, the tale of a young scholar reading Aristotle while walking in the woods. He is charged by a ferocious boar and saves himself by stuffing his book down the beast's throat, the dryness of the text instantly killing the creature. The student's friends celebrated his bravery and safety by roasting and eating the boar.
It is not unequivocally clear in what year the annual telling of the Tale of the Boar was added to the dinner events at Rochester. The Campus Times lists Professor Thomas Gavin as speaker in 1982. The 1983 program lists Professor John Waters on the occasion of the 50th dinner. You can read Waters' speech, entitled "Confessions of Boaring Ritualist" in the Campus Times of December 14, 1983.