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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Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile

hymns_3At Church this morning we sang ‘Be Thou My Vision’ or ‘Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile’ as it is in original Gaelic.

The lyrics are great:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
Be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of Heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of Heaven, thou Heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won!;
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
This ancient hymn became enormously popular during the Victorian Era and finally made it’s way into the English hymnal in 1912 by Eleanor Hull.
This is still a very popular used at both weddings and funerals and is originally from Ireland and commonly attributed to Dallán Forgaill, from the 6th Century.