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King Wenceslas (a Bohemian duke named Vlacav, actually) was a generous and pious man and a devout Christian who was martyred for his faith in the year 929. But his story is not a Christmas story.
The melody of "Good King Wenceslas" is a Scandinavian spring carol that originated in the 13th Century. The words we know today were written in 1853 by the Rev. John Mason Neale. Neale published it in a book of songs for "Christmastide," the 12 days of Christmas from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6. The story told in the carol is not about Christmas Day, however, but of another religious festival day that coincidentally happens to fall during Christmastide.
As the carol relates:
Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen..
St. Stephen's Day is on Dec. 26. It was on that day that King Wenceslas went out to comfort the poor. According to The Hymns and Carols of Christmas, it probably was the proximity of the two days that link the song and the Christmas holiday in popular culture. But the lyrics make no mention of the Nativity or of Christmas observance.
In medieval times, Saint Wenceslas became the patron saint of Bohemia. Today, he is the patron of the modern Czech republic.
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