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Who was King Wenceslas? And the the Feast of Stephen?

As every Czech knows, Wenceslas (907–935) is known by several names. Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia and Václav.
The short life Václav/Wenceslas could provide a new season of Game of Thrones. His father (the Duke of Bohemia) was  killed when he was only thirteen, leaving his mother, Drahomira, to rule the province in the manner of Cersei Lannister. Bossing Bohemia gave Dahomira a busy schedule, and while she was out seeing of enemies, Wenceslas was home schooled by her Christian grandmother.

Grandma's curriculum included a lot of  nonsense about peace, love and understanding. This was not to Drahomira's liking so she had her mother-in-law bumped-off. Two years later Drahomira was overthrown.

This left Wenceslas - who according to legend was a kind, honest young man - in the hot seat. He vowed to be put a stop to all this murdering and mayhem. He even allowed his mother to move back into his castle. A long era of peace and stability beckoned.

But someone always has to spoil things. In this case the villain was Boleslav the Bad, the brother of Václav/Wenceslas. Continuing  family/GOT tradition of homicidal treachery Boleslav the Bad murdered his good brother

But what has this got to do with the carol?

Václav was later declared a Christian martyr and beatified. The Pope even took the liberty of posthumously promoting the new saint to King Wenceslas (he was technically a duke). 

A cult developed around Wenceslas, including as legend that he had sacrificed his own life to save that of his page. According to the (implausible) version celebrated in Neale's famous carol (1853)  the two men were out in the snow giving alms to peasants on a freezing night

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
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

As night closed in, the page was losing the will to continue. Wenceslas urges him on, allowing his miraculous survival at the expense of his own life

Why 'the feast of Stephen'?

Stephen is widely acknowledged as the first Christian martyr - his death was witnessed and recorded by Paul. His 'feast' is the Second Day of Christmas (26 December) but this is now more commonly known as Boxing Day in most of the English-speaking world (though not the USA)


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