Monday, December 26, 2016

On the Second Day of... Good King Wenceslas

photo © Mark Butkus 2016
After a busy day, Santa and friends enjoy the Feast of Stephen.

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


— John Mason Neale


The words to the carol, Good King Wenceslas were written by John Mason Neale and published in a collection of Christmas carols in 1853. The music originates from the Finnish spring carol, Tempus adest floridum. First written in Finland 300 years earlier but known and played since the 13th century.

Good King Wenceslas tells the story of the Bohemian Wenceslas, who in life was a Duke but legend has transformed into a King — though later, there was an actual King Wenceslas in Bohemia. The song became associated with Christmas because of the feast of Saint Stephen. December 26. The second day of Christmas.

For a Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas is an anomaly owing to the fact that there is no reference to Christ or the nativity.