3 Days Until Christmas
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
GOOD KING WENCESLAS
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel.
“Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ Fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.
“Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page,
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.
ABOUT THE CAROL
1. St. Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of Stephen, is celebrated on Dec. 26. The day is also celebrated as Boxing Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts from their bosses or employers, known as a “Christmas box.” Charitable giving is an old part of Boxing Day tradition
2. St. Stephen was the first martyr of Christianity. According to the Acts of the Apostles, he was a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the anger of members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy, at his trial he made a long speech fiercely denouncing the authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was stoned to death.
3. Wenceslas, whose real name was Vaclav, was a 10th-century Catholic Duke of Bohemia also known as Vaclav the Good. “Wenceslas” or “Wenceslaus” is the English translation of “Vaclav.”
4. Vaclav’s father died when Vaclav was 12 — too young to take the throne. He officially became Duke when he turned 18.
5. He was revered as a kind and generous ruler. Legend says he gave alms to the poor on St. Stephen’s Day. Vaclav established a good education system (for the time) and a successful system of law and order. His own Saint’s Day is Sept. 28.
6. Vaclav’s younger brother, Boleslaw the Bad, assassinated the duke when Vaclav was 22 years old.
7. John Mason Neale wrote the carol, which was first published in 1853. The tune selected by Neale, “Tempus Adest Floridum,” comes from a collection Piae Cantiones, published in 1582. Neale also translated “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from an ancient poem and set it to music.
8. Here is the legend Neale adapted into the song of “Good King Wenceslas”:
On Christmas Day, Vaclav would greet his servants by pressing a gold coin into each hand and declaring “May the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior who was born on this day, bless you and watch over you.”
A peasant who was looking on remarked that it was all well and good to give coins and a blessing to your own servants, but tragic that those who were homeless, or living in hovels, wearing rags and struggling to feed their families, had nothing on Christmas Day. Vaclav decided he needed to seek out these hurting individuals and called one of his young servants to go with him into a neighboring village.
Was it a cold and snowy night? Probably. In their haste and because of the duke’s sense of urgency, Vaclav and his young servant went out poorly dressed. That did not stop them from fulfilling their mission. They walked as far as St. Agnes’ Fountain, where it is said they found an old woman breaking ice with a stick. Upon their arrival to that area, they met the needs of the poor.
9. St. Agnes’ Fountain was probably a local landmark.
10. Although Vaclav was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously “conferred on [him] the regal dignity and title” and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a “king.”
- Bible Study Tools: Acts 6, Acts 7
- The Telegraph: The Story Behind the Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’
- Share Faith: Good King Wenceslas, the Song & Story
- Why Christmas
- American Grandma
- Wikipedia: Saint Stephen
- Storynory: Good King Wenceslas
May I, like Good King Wenceslas, bless the poor with what I have to give. May their burden be lighter because of the love you show through me. Amen.