John M. Neale (1818-1866) was most well-known for his adaption of medieval hymns, many of which are no longer sung in most settings today. Two of his original songs however, have endured with great popularity: O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Good King Wenceslas.
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Neale based the lyrics of Good King Wenceslas on the life of a famed 10th century king of Bohemia. Catholic King Wenceslas (907-935) was revered as a very kind and generous ruler. He was assassinated by his brother, and considered a martyr for his faith. Neale put music to a legend regarding the king giving alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen (December 26th). Although the song does not refer to a particular Christmas event, because it is written about the day after Christmas, and about a man who showed Christ's love to the poor, it is considered a Christmas song.
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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.
"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blow stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.
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“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. (Luke 14:13-14)
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