Kindness is rare these days, but in the 10th century, Good King Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia (in what is now the Czech Republic) was known for his kindness. His father converted to Christianity from paganism, but his mother, being the daughter of a pagan tribal chief, did not. His father died when Wenceslas was 13 and his mother immediately tried to turn him away from his faith in Christ. Wenceslas resisted and had her exiled when he became king at 18.
Wenceslas was known far and wide for his acts of kindness. One biographer wrote this of his kind deeds:
“Rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”
Wenceslas was loved by his people and he ruled them for a decade. However, at the young age of 28, Wenceslas was assassinated on his way to church by his brother. Fortunately, as a martyr, his influence lived on. He was canonized by the Catholic Church and is now the patron saint of the Czech state.
The carol Good King Wenceslas was written down in 1853 by English hymnwriter John Mason Neale. As the story and the song tells, Wenceslas sees a poor man collecting wood on a cold December 26th evening, when the Feast of St. Stephen is celebrated. Wenceslas finds out where the poor man lives, then along with his servant, he gathers meat, drink, and firewood and delivers it to the poor man’s home. On the way, his servant almost gives up because of the cold, but Wenceslas directs him to walk directly behind him. Miraculously, the servant feels the warmth of Wenceslas as he walks in the footprints of his master. The carol ends with a call to all Christians to bless the poor, and in doing so, find true blessings for themselves.
Even though Good King Wenceslas is not a song directly about Jesus, it is a song about someone who was Christlike at Christmastime. We could all learn a lesson from Wenceslas that kindness is a virtue worth keeping, especially if we are blessed with the means to bless others.
Click here to hear Bing Crosby sing Good King Wenceslas
*Photo courtesy of Nathan Lemon and Unsplash