What is The Story of King Wenceslas
Throughout the years, Christmas music has been the soundtrack throughout my memories of holiday seasons past. I grew up on Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, and Gene Autry. Most year's I would listen to these artists, and enjoy them and move on. Then one night, I was scrolling through the cable channels and came upon PBS showing the Morman Tabernacle Choir live, with Jane Seymour as the guest. She was doing a reading of Good King Wenceslas, and I was immediately taken with the song.
I had heard the song before, but it held no meaning for me. But, as I watched Jane give her performance and the music and dancing that accompanied her, I started to see the beauty of this song. After the show, I wanted to better understand where the story of King Wenceslas came from.
Good King Wenceslas was written in 1853 by John Mason and his music editor, Thomas Helmore. This song was inspired by Wenceslas the I of Bohemia in the Czech Republic. He was the Duke of Bohemia in 911 AD and ruled for about 24 years until his assassination, aided by his younger brother, Boleslaus the Cruel.
According to legend, the Duke was a kind-hearted leader who believed in piety. He was young when he took the throne. His father had died when he was only 13 years old, and he had to assume the throne. Based on the legend of Wenceslas, he took control of the Nobels to keep the peace for the country.
He even agreed to split the Kingdom between his brother Boleslaus and himself, allowing Boleslaus the larger of the two portions of land. His kindness and support of the people helped grow his legend and further deepen the divide between him and his brother.
The Legend is Born
In September 935, a band of nobles with Wenceslas's younger brother Boleslav plotted to kill him. They were successful, However, it only added to the legend of Wenceslas. He would soon become a Saint under the direction of Pope Pius II, and many songs and stories were written about him.
The Wenceslas Song Is Based On This Tale
One of the oldest in Czech history, known as The hymn "Svatý Václave" (Saint Wenceslas) or "Saint Wenceslas Chorale" is the most popular. These are the original Good King Wenceslas lyrics and chords under record.
The version I listen to is the Story of one of Wenceslas' servants who is not enjoying the Feast of Steven (December 26th) like the others in the Kingdom. He is not happy or excited to join the rest of the castle in the spirit of the day. King Wenceslas sets out to show this young man just how much he has to be thankful for and that giving can be more fulfilling than receiving.
Lyric's to Good King Wenceslas (sing along, won't you)
As Wenceslas looks out the castle window, he sees a peasant out in the snow foraging for wood in the cold, snowy evening. He asks the page, is that man one of ours? The page responds with a no and says none of us would be out there in this weather. The King asks if he knows where the man lives, and the page says by St. Agnes' Fountain.
"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, tho' the frost was cruel, When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.
"The king asks his page or servant where the poor man lives."'Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou knowest 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."
The King orders the page to gather as much food, drink, and wood he could hold so that they can help this poor man out. They start their trek but the page is getting cold and tired of this unnecessary trip.
"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither: Thou and I shall see him dine when we bear them thither. 'Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together; Through the rude wind's wild lament And the bitter weather."
The King encourages the young page to hang in there and not give up. He even tells him to walk in his footsteps so that the trip might be a little easier for him to make.
"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, good my 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; The heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed."
The song encourages men (and women) to give of themselves to the poor, and in that, find the true meaning of the Christmas spirit themselves.
"Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor Shall yourselves find blessing."
What Does This Really Mean?
I hope that I do not forget the true meaning of this day. Even though I love all the traditions and songs that I grew up with, I believe I have more connection with the ideals of this song and the Duke Wenceslas than I do with the buying and receiving of gifts. I know from experience that when you give of yourself with an open heart for the benefit of others, you can't help but feel wonderful. Sometimes we need to be shown what is possible in order to make that happen.
My Christmas Wish for You
I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas, and to those of you who don't celebrate this day, Happy Holidays.