Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ye Who Now Will Bless the Poor Shall Yourselves Find Blessing

Good King Wenceslas has always been one of our favorite Christmas carols. The story of a Tenth Century Saint, Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, bravely battling the winter cold to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen, the Second Day of Christmas.

Does a Nineteenth Century Christmas carol based on a Thirteenth century melody about a Tenth Century Saint have relevance to Twenty-first Century America? Besides being a catchy tune? We think so. The last line of the song sums up the meaning and spirit of Christmas to us in a nutshell:

Ye who now will bless the poor Shall yourselves find blessing

Christmas in America today has come to focus on accumulation, materialism, and greed. Pepper spray at Walmart. Riots at Nike. What we buy has displaced what we give as the contemporary meaning of Christmas. We say the spirit of Christmas is found not in all the junk and trinkets we buy and accumulate. The spirit of Christmas comes from helping those who need help. And not just once or twice a year, but all the year around. Tax cuts for billionaires, and blaming the poor for being lazy, are not exactly what John Mason Neale had in mind when he penned this carol:

Good King Wenceslas
(lyrics by John Mason Neale)

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


"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st 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."


"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


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


By the Way: We love the R.E.M. 1989 Fanclub single version of Good King Wenceslas:


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