Good King Wenceslas may be the most heartily sung and least understood of all the Christmas carols. Who was this enigmatic Wenceslas and why do we sing about him? He was not a king, but rather the Duke of Bohemia (907-935). He was a good, benevolent nobleman who gave his life to spreading the gospel and expanding Christianity in his country. His brother, Boleslaus, however, was anything but good. Tragically, he ended up killing Wenceslas and succeeding him as duke. A century after his murder, Wenceslas was canonized as the patron saint of Bohemia (part of the modern Czech Republic).
The Christmas carol by English hymn writer John Mason Neale is based on a popular legend of the life of Wenceslas. The tale concerns a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen, the second day of Christmas, December 26. During the journey, his servant is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by the heat miraculously emanating from the king’s footprints in the snow. Although the bouncy Scandinavian tune we use for the carol has been criticized for its lack of musical finesse, many love this joyful melody that supports the saga. It focuses on generosity and kindness, and giving to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is a chronicle about reaching out to the marginalized, the oppressed and the ostracized in our communities. It’s about the love of Jesus.
via Commissioner William W. Francis