Good King Wencelas

February 5, 2019

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, gathering winter fuel.

           

 

One of the best loved Christmas Carols is the 162-year-old carol, "Good King Wenceslas."  In 1853, John Mason Neale chose Wenceslas as the subject for a children's song to exemplify generosity.  It quickly became a Christmas favorite, even though its words clearly indicate that Wenceslas 'looked out' on St. Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas.  For the tune, Neale picked a spring carol, originally sung with the Latin text 'Tempus adest floridum' or 'Spring has unwrapped her flowers.'  This original spring tune was first published in 1582 in a collection of Swedish church and school songs.

 

Who was King Wenceslas, anyway?  Wenceslas was the Duke of Bohemia who was murdered in 929 AD by his wicked younger brother, Boleslav.  As the song indicates, he was a good, honest, and strongly principled man.  The song expresses his high moral character in describing King Wenceslas braving a fierce storm in order to help feed a poor neighbor.  Wenceslas believed that his Christian faith needed to be put into action in practical ways.  Wenceslas was brought up with a strong Christian faith by his grandmother St. Ludmila. Wenceslas' own mother Drahomira, however, joined forces with an anti-Christian group that murdered Wenceslas' grandmother, and seized power in Bohemia.  Two years later in 922 AD, the evil Drahomira was deposed, and Good King Wenceslas became the ruler.  He became Bohemia's most famous martyr and patron saint.  His picture appeared on Bohemian coins, and the Crown of Wenceslas became the symbol of Czech independence.

 

The importance of this little lesson into Christian Christmas hymnody is to notice the meaning of the words.  According to the song/legend the good king went out of his way to help someone less fortunate than he.  It is a lesson in compassion and brotherly love.

 

Shalom,

Gary

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