A Carol for Today

Did you know that there is a carol for today?

Today is the saint’s day for the martyr Stephen in the Catholic church calendar of saints. The Eastern Orthodox church observes either December 27 or January 9 as the date depending on whether they use the Gregorian or Julian calendar in a specific locale.

There are a few interesting customs associated with St. Stephen’s Day depending on where you are. They include bleeding of cattle, carrying birds through the streets or eating special meals.

Since I know that this is a day observed in some religious traditions, I am thinking about Stephen today. I think of his great sermon in Acts 7 and also about his actions while he was stoned to death.

Jerusalem Damascus Gate - Stoning of Stephen - St. Stephen's Day - Gates of JerusalemThe picture here is of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. According to early tradition, it was outside this gate that Stephen was stoned to death. A later tradition gives the location as the Lion’s Gate, but there is little evidence to support this.

So what is the carol for today?

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 - Traditional English Carol - St. Stephen's Day - Feast of Stephen - ChristmasGood 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 - Traditional English Carol - St. Stephen's Day - Feast of Stephen - Christmas

Good King Wenceslas is not a Christmas carol, but is a carol that was written for St. Stephen’s Day.

Red and White Flowers - Feast of St. Stephen - Good King WenceslasNow back to the carol

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 especially as Boleslaus the Cruel is an ancestor of many of the European Royal families.

Now that you know a bit more about the background of Good King Wenceslas you will have a better appreciation for the carol when you hear it sung.

Steven

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