OK, so yesterday I described how this is going to work. Starting with yesterday’s post I will be counting down my ideas of what the twelve worst and best Christmas songs are, alternating between good and bad every day culminating with my choice for the worst song on December 23rd, and the best song on Christmas Eve. I’ll also post my regular features like ‘Graph of the Week,’ ‘Fail of the Week,’ and maybe some of the other posts I’ve started writing but haven’t finished yet.

Got it? Right then, here we go with the good stuff:

12. Good King Wenceslas

Words: John Mason Neale, 1853.
Music: “Tempus adest floridum” (“Spring has unwrapped her flowers”), a 13th Century spring carol; adaptation by Rev. Thomas Helmore from Piae Cantiones, 1582.

You must have known this one would be on my “good” list, it has “good” in the title.

King Wenceslas was a good king, he looked down from his ivory tower and was moved by the plight of a poor peasant, and did something about it. He and one of his servants gathered food and provisions and trudged through a bitter snowstorm to the peasant’s home.

At one point the King’s page says that he can’t go on:

“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

OK, so it’s a good song and a nice story, but what you may not know (as I didn’t until I did extensive research) is that the story – or parts of it anyway – is actually true.

As with all legendary figures – Saint Nicholas, Davy Crockett, Sarah Palin – truth and fiction tend to grow together and become so entwined that it becomes hard to know which is which. Such is the case with the good king. Turns out there really was a King Wenceslas, except he wasn’t a king, and depending on where you live his name wasn’t really Wenceslas. But the rest of the story is absolutely true!

Wenceslaus I was born in 907 in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. That’s right, he was a bohemian. In the Czech language his name is Svatý Václav. He became Duke of Bohemia at the age of 18 in 925 and became known as a righteous monarch who looked after those less fortunate than himself. In 935 he was killed by his brother in a political coup. As a result of his life and untimely death, Wenceslaus is venerated by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as a martyr and a saint. The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously conferred the title of king to Wenceslaus.

So you see? It actually is all true, and even if it isn’t, the song teaches us a valuable lesson that we who have so much – compared to others – need to remember all year long:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing


2 thoughts on “The 12 Good Songs of Christmas: #12

  1. I love Good King Wenceslas, or as I used to say as a small child, Good King Wesley. This song is uber-long that leaves you exhausted and ready for some hot toddy by the end of it. But oh, it has some great lyrics! I was just thinking about this song as I started to read your post, and then, lo and behold, you mentioned the same carol. I think it must be that social justice thing we have in common, eh?

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