Blog Post #548

Blog Post #548 The “Non-Christmas Carol”

This time of year, we hear the “Christmas Carol” Good King Wenceslas on the radio.  

The lyrics go:

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

“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

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

So, we see the King and his page looked out of the castle on December 26 (the feast of Stephen).  The snow is deep. It was cold (“the frost was cruel”). The moon was full (or near full). The wind was fierce (“the rude wind’s wild lament”).  We might call the evening a blizzard, although the snow was not currently falling (the moon was out). And, into those conditions, a poor man is gathering wood.  

One can surmise that the poor man (probably a peasant) had used all of his fuel on this bitterly cold night and needed to have more wood for his fireplace – or possibly die.  

I have lived in South Dakota where our actual temperature was occasionally in the minus twenty range.  If you factor in the wind chill (across the Great Plains of the United States, there is little to stop the wind), it was probably in the minus thirty to minus 40 range.  The record lows for parts of South Dakota are in the minus 50 range. The wind can blow ‘right through you’.

This poor man was very needful to gather wood on such a night.

Wikipedia indicates that Wenceslas lived in the 10th century, but the song was written in 1853!  Wenceslas was considered as an ideal monarch (that is a ‘good’ king). In Wikipedia, we see this: “Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II, who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.  [I think I might be able to walk ten miles – but barefoot in the ice and snow – no way!!!] The song seems to indicate that where Wenceslas walked, his footprints melted the snow – so many he could walk ten miles in the ice and snow!!  Wenceslas was assassinated by his wicked brother, Boleslaw the Bad.

But the moral of the song is in the third stanza:

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

If you are rich or have a high rank – take care of the poor; with that, you too shall be blessed.

So, here we have a “Christmas” song, not talking of the birth of Jesus, taking place on the day after Christmas, about a good king, written maybe 700 years after Wenceslas lived, with no angels, no shepherds, and no baby in a manger – telling us to help the poor.  

I’m embarrassed writing this blog.  I walked past a Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringer the other day and didn’t put anything in the kettle.  I know in the past my wife (who handles most of our finances) has made contributions to the Salvation Army and I should have checked with her.  [By-the-way, my personal opinion is that the Salvation Army is a solid, well-run charity with close to 100% of the income given for services to the poor.]  I also past a homeless man (or I assume he was) on a street corner with a sign asking for “Anything will help”.

Lesson for me (and maybe for you) – take care of the poor, the needy!!  Have you done that?  (I haven’t and need to) And … there is a promise there too – if you help the poor, you too shall have a blessing!!!


Posted by Bruce White

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