Notes on a Christmas Carol

I will listen to nothing but traditional carols at Christmas.  Give me your Silent Night, your Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, your Joy to the World.  I do not tire of it.  But today I wanted to write about one of those lesser-known and somewhat lesser-sung traditional carols: Good King Wenceslas. 

The song is often left out of traditional services because–well, it’s not strictly about Jesus.  Instead it tells a short tale of the titular king based on a real historical figure: the legendarily pious St. Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia.  In the carol, on the Feast of Stephen the king decides to go on a cold and grueling journey to give alms to a poor peasant.  He brings along with him his little page, who confesses his struggle to the king during his journey:

Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.

The king has a solution, and offers instruction to his frozen page:

Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winters rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly

The carol tells us that the page literally follows in the king’s footsteps –  “in his master’s step he trod” – and soon was warm indeed.  The carol ends with an entreaty for those possessing of wealth or status to give generously to the poor.

As I mentioned before, the song isn’t exactly widely played in most Christmas services I’ve attended.  I suspect the lack of Jesus mentions and the inherent Catholicism of it make people shrug and reach for something a little more accessible.  But hearing the carol today, I was struck with that singular image: a little page struggling along to do a good deed by following in the king’s footsteps.

I hope that as Christmas nears and we stand at the threshold of a new year, you find yourself following in the King’s footsteps, too, on your way to do the work He has given you!


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