26 December 2008

12 Songs of Christmas - Song #6

Contrary to popular opinion, “Good King Wenceslas” is not a Christmas carol. It is, in fact, a Boxing Day carol, and so we present it to you on Boxing Day, otherwise known as St. Stephen’s Day .

To me, Boxing Day has always seemed more like the sort of holiday Jesus would approve of far more than Christmas. Even as a child, my understanding of Jesus was such that I didn’t think he’d want much of a fuss on his birthday (not that Dec. 25th is anywhere near his “birthday”) so much as to use the beginning of winter to remind those more fortunate to look after the less so.

Boxing Day, at least in England when I was there, was a day where your less-used toys, outgrown but still in good condition clothes, books you’ve read and other discarded things are gathered up, re-boxed in the boxes you got your new stuff in, and given to the poor and afflicted. It was a day for visiting the soup kitchens, putting money in the poorbox at the local church, and generally a day to count your own blessings by interacting with those who have less.

Historically, Boxing Day has always been about the lower classes and less-well-off; it may have started from a tradition of giving servants the day after Christmas off duty and a “bonus” for their service (since they were likely working on Christmas day), or perhaps (more cynically) a day to palm off your least-favoured gifts upon the unsuspecting (and always grateful) dregs of society -- nobody’s really sure. I’ve always found it odd that so-called “Christians” don’t think more of it than they do of Christmas, since it’s so much more Christ-like a thing to do, but apparently that’s just me.

Anyway, Good King Wenceslas (not pronounced “wen-seh-less”, but “wen-sis-laas” actually) is himself a saint, and he did his miraculous deeds (as told in the song) on St. Stephens’ Day (St. Stephen was, so goes the legend, the very first Christian martyr). They both are people who came from the Balkans (St. Stephen from Hungary, Wenceslas from Bohemia), and thus it’s quite fitting that they come together in this song.

This version, the best I could find on YouTube, is from a band known as Blackmore’s Night , a modern-day renaissance/folk-rock band in the mould of Steeleye Span and led by no less than Richie Blackmore formerly of Deep Purple (!).

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