Many of you may remember singing the carol Good King Wenceslas when you were in school along with other carols. But, is Good King Wenceslas a Christmas carol?Good King Wenceslas was written in 1853 by John Mason Neal who was an Anglican priest and hymn writer.
The carol was originally published in Carols for Christmas-Tide.
Good King Wenceslas is not a Christmas carol, but is a carol that was written for St. Stephen’s Day.
St. Stephen’s Day is an official public holiday in many countries and honors Stephen the first martyr. You can read more about it a post that I wrote last year about St. Stephen’s Day and Boxing Day.
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
gath’ring winter fuel.
Who was Good King Wenceslaus? During his life Wenceslaus was not a King, but was just a Duke. He was posthumously given the title of King by the Emperor Otto I. He lived from about 907 to 935 in Bohemia.
Wenceslaus was the Duke of Bohemia and was known for his good Christian deeds. He was known for going around barefoot giving alms, even in the snow in winter time. This came at a time when Christianity was still contending with paganism as the official religion in Bohemia.
Wenceslaus was murdered by friends of his brother who was know as Boleslaus the Cruel. His brother then became Duke of Bohemia. There is some question as to whether he was murdered for his Christian beliefs, but he is considered a martyr and a Saint by the Catholic Church.
His brother did support Christianity in Bohemia. One of his sons was educated as a clergyman, one daughter became a nun and another married Mieszko I Prince of Poland.
Mieszko I was baptized bringing Christianity to Poland as the official religion.
The history of Bohemia is an interesting study. Boleslaus the Cruel is an ancestor of many of the European Royal families.
There is much more intrigue in the story of Wenceslaus and Boleslaus, but for now I will leave you with just the few facts above.
Now I know a bit more about the background of Good King Wenceslas and will have a better appreciation for the carol when I hear it sung.