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Merry Olde Madison

The Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts ring in the yuletide season with figgy pudding and a fake boar’s head.

A playful twist on traditional English pageantry. Andy Manis

For a few magical nights each holiday season, UW–Madison practically transforms into 16th-century Oxford. The annual Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts, hosted by the Wisconsin Union, put a playful twist on traditional English pageantry. Gathered in Memorial Union’s decked-out Great Hall, guests indulge in a feast fit for royalty while enjoying a spirited performance from the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison and a ceremonial presentation of a (fake) boar’s head.

The Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts date to 1933, when a group of singers under the direction of music professor Edgar Gordon ’27, MA’29 performed at the University Club and the Memorial Union. The boar’s head was inspired by a tradition at the University of Rochester in New York, which drew on an old English legend of a scholar who slew a wild boar by ramming a book by Aristotle down its throat. (Score a point for academia?)

The evening typically begins with a cocktail hour, with hors d’oeuvres and traditional wassail (hot mulled cider). When the bells ring, it’s time for the presentation of the boar’s head, a yuletide toast, and the start of the feast. The Wisconsin Union’s catering team brings out the extravagant spread. This year’s entrées include maple-glazed pork tenderloin with mustard fingerlings and a vegetarian maple-glazed acorn squash. Dessert is always flaming figgy pudding with a hard sauce.

The UW’s Tudor Singers performed at the event until 1972, when the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison took over. Now, the crowd sings along with the ensemble’s holiday carols. The night ends with a formal concert, which includes stately renditions of “Silent Night” and Mozart’s “Dona Nobis Pacem.”

After a COVID-19 hiatus in 2020 and 2021, the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts return this year to Great Hall. The Wisconsin Union will host five events from November 30 to December 4, offering some 250 tickets for each.

“Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts are nights of relaxation, delicious food, and beautiful artistry,” says Shauna Breneman, communications director for the Wisconsin Union. “They are the perfect way to enjoy winter as a family, couple, or group of friends.”

In other words: long may this tradition reign.

Published in the Winter 2022 issue

Tags: Campus history, holidays, music, Student life

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