My Favorite Christmas Carol

By | December 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

When I was growing up, we heard carols on the radio in the weeks before Christmas. What we hear as young people sticks in our minds, often for a lifetime. This is particularly true if what we hear is perceived as fun, and is associated with a rousing melody.
But today, fewer people, especially young people, listen to the radio. They are absorbed, not to say obsessed, with their smart phones. I am undoubtedly old-fashioned, but I would prefer smart young people with dumb phones. Today, few young people ever hear this carol, much less can repeat the words.
But why am I surprised? Today, many young people can’t identify Cain and Abel, or name more than two or three of the Ten Commandments, or describe who the combatants were in World War II. The sad fact is that today, many young people are unfamiliar with anything that happened before they were born – good for narcissists, not so good for citizens of a free country.
If I steal the financial inheritance of young people, I am branded a despicable thief and sent to prison. But if I steal their intellectual and spiritual inheritance, I am praised as “modern.” Carols like this one have deep instructional value, though they would not help young people to pass standardized tests or to do well on the SAT. But they would help young people to pass a far more important test – how to live a good and worthwhile life. That is the real “core curriculum.”
I grew fond of this carol because it deals not with angels and wise men, but with wisdom itself – how we should treat our fellow human beings. To me, it expresses not just the true Christmas spirit, but the true spirit of all good religion.


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,
gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know 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 the 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 blows 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 step 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

For a superb musical version, click here for the Irish Rovers.  St. Stephen’s Day is December 26.
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