Christmas Song Story: Good King Wenceslas    

“Good King Wenceslas” tells the story of a Bohemian king who goes on a journey, braving harsh winter weather, to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the Second Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935).

During his lifetime, Wenceslas was only a duke however “Holy Roman Emperor Otto I (962–973) posthumously “conferred on [Wenceslas] the regal dignity and title” and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a “king.”

Immediately after his 10th century death, Wenceslas was considered a martyr and saint. Several centuries later, the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II (d. 1464).

The original poem was written by Václav Alois Svoboda

John Mason Neale, an English hymnwriter, translated the Czech poem into English in 1853.

Neale’s lyrcis were set to a 13th century spring carol “Tempus adest floridum” (“Eastertime Is Come”) first published in the 1582.

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