Good King Wenceslas always struck me as a bit odd when I was a kid. I liked the tune. But the lyrics seemed a bit different from other Christmas carols in that they didn’t seem to specifically reference Christmas itself.
“Away in a manger … “ , “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born king”, “O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth. “. Those sort of carols are pretty obvious.
But “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen …”? We didn’t even know what the Feast of Stephen was. For me, it always brought up an image of him watching people eating.
Interestingly, Good King Wenceslas was originally published in a collection of carols for Easter, not Christmas. It is only over time that it has become so closely associated with Christmas instead. Thank goodness the Feast of Stephen is on December 26, so there is at least a proximity connection.
Tempus adest floridum
But setting aside the original connection to Easter, for me there is a much greater issue I wrestle with when I have too much time on my hands.
The lyrics for Good King Wenceslas were written in the mid-19th-century. But the tune itself is taken from Tempus adept floridum, a 13th-century Finnish carol.
If I play an instrumental version of the song – ie. without the lyrics – am I really playing Good King Wenceslas? Or am I actually playing Tempus adept floridum?
This sort of existential angst always gives me a headache and provides an excellent excuse to reach for the eggnog and rum.
Happy holidays, everyone.