Good King Wenceslas!

Boxing Day is celebrated on 26th December annually, well not so much celebrated as remembered.

Under Queen Victoria it was brought up to date and became a time for the wealthy to show their generosity by way of gifts to those of the poor. In fact so much so that it became a national holiday in England in 1871.

It is a shame it is not still seen as a time to get out there and help the poor but as just a day to go to the sales to pick up a bargain.

Originally and according to Charles Dickens Boxing day was a holiday

‘on which postmen, errand boys, and servants of various kinds received a Christmas box of contributions from those whom they serve’

An Alms (charity) Box (thus it became boxing day) was placed in every church for the poor of the parish and the money distributed on Boxing Day which is also the Feast day of St Stephen. St Stephen was one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr.

In the Acts of the Apostles the name of St. Stephen occurs for the first time on the occasion of the appointment of the first deacons. Dissatisfaction concerning the distribution of alms from the community’s fund having arisen in the Church, seven men were selected and specially ordained by the Apostles to take care of the temporal relief of the poorer members.

Of these seven, Stephen, is the first mentioned and the best known. In fact this is reflected in the Christmas Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’

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, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore wrote the carol which was first published in Carols for Christmas-Tide in 1853. Neale was known for his devotion to High Church traditions. Neale’s lyrics are possibly a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda, written in Czech, German and Latin.

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Christmas Carols

The book which you can find at the link below

http://www.oslhp.net/publications/A_Victorian_Carol_Book.pdf

is a Victorian Carol book…sort of…as it also contains some non-religious songs.

1. Angels From The Realms Of Glory
2. Angels We Have Heard On High
3. As With Gladness, Men of Old
4. Away In A Manger
5. Christ Was Born on Christmas Day
6. Deck The Halls!
7. God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
8. Good Christian Men, Rejoice
9. Good King Wenceslas
10. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
11. I Saw Three Ships
12. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
13. Jingle Bells
14. Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
15. Joy To The World
16. O Christmas Tree
17. O Come, All Ye Faithful
18. O Come, Little Children
19. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
20. O Holy Night
21. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
22. Once In Royal David’s City
23. Silent Night
24. See Amid The Winter Snow
25. The Coventry Carol (Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child)
26. The First Nowell, The Angel Did Say
27. The Holly and the Ivy
28. The Twelve Days of Christmas
29. The Wassail Song (Here We Come A Wassailing)
30. Up On The Housetop
31. We Three Kings of Orient Are
32. What Child Is This, Who, Laid To Rest

My favourite Carol is omitted but is ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ which is maybe a strange choice but reminds of a good childhood, cold days in church, Christmas morning, presents and family. I especially love the first verse which brings back memories of carol singing in the streets with my local church, St John’s…a firm Victorian practice that all has died out nowadays.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago

Time was with most of us, when Christmas Day, encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone round the Christmas fire, and make the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.
Charles Dickens