When the snow lay ’round about, deep and crisp and even

Now observed throughout much of the British Commonwealth, there are competing theories about the origins of Boxing Day.  Most likely the name comes from the tradesmen’s custom of collecting “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Yuletide as thanks for good service throughout the year.

This tradition dates back to the days when the servants of wealthy landowners were allowed to take the day off to visit their families, and it was customary for each to receive a box containing gifts, bonuses and leftover food.

But an even older, European Boxing Day tradition stretches back to the Middle Ages, where in addition to those in service, money and gifts were given to those in need, with metal boxes placed outside churches to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.

That’s where “Good King Wenceslas” enters the picture.  As an English “Second Day of Christmas” Carol it was written by John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore in the 1850s based on the Tenth Century legend of Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia.  Wenceslas encouraged his page to stay the course against the frigid weather by following his footprints, step for step, through the deep snow so that he could give alms to a poor peasant during the Feast of Stephen.

Born in Manitoba in 1957, soprano Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt, is a singer, composer, harpist, accordionist and pianist who writes, records and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern themes.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S BOXING DAY SELECTION 

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

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Gathering winter fuel

 Hither, page, and stand by me

If thou knows 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 shall 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 blows stronger

Fails my heart, I know not how

I can go no longer

Mark my footsteps, my good my page

Tread thou in them boldly

Thou shall 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

 

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