Marja-Leena Rathje
Home ::: feast of Stephen

feast of Stephen


Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

The words to the carol "Good King Wenceslas" were written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853, the music originates in Finland 300 years earlier. This Christmas carol is unusual as there is no reference in the lyrics to the nativity. Good King Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia in the 10th century. Good King Wenceslas was a Catholic and was martyred following his assassination by his brother Boleslaw and his supporters, his Saint's Day is September 28th, and he is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic. St. Stephen's feast day was celebrated on 26th December which is why this song is sung as a Christmas carol. (From

A sunny bright, Christmas Day morning was followed by a cloudy, warmer afternoon with some thawing of our huge layers of snow. Today is Boxing Day as we call it in Canada, and Tapanipäivä in Finland, and it is snowing AGAIN! This inspired our girls (daughters and granddaughters) to sing this carol this morning before Anita and Richard departed for their long drive home. For all of us this Christmas, Anita had made gorgeous booklets of Christmas carols, with snippets of information about them along with photos of her nieces and winter scenes from around her home near Kamloops. So it was that I learned that the music for this carol originated in Finland 300 years earlier! I could not find the composer's name through a web search.


Happy Feast of Stephen to all of you! I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas or other feast and continue to bask in the warmth of the holidays! We have lots of delicious leftovers to feast on for days, with turkey soup and ham and pea soup to follow in the days ahead.

Boxing Day 2007
Boxing Day 2006
Boxing Day 2005

(Photos taken in our backyard on Christmas Eve day.)


I didn't know all that about the song, which has been part of our family's Christmas Eve carol sing-along since I was a kid. The message to help the poor seems especially apropos to the season.

Dave, I'm finding that many of our popular Christmas carols have some obscure and sometimes unusual stories behind them. I just read this one about the 190-year-old Stille Nacht (Silent Night).

The first time my German mother heard Stille Nacht performed in English was in the early 60's at a party thrown by Americans in Frankfurt. The singer was Mahalia Jackson; my mother was so taken by her rendition that she began going to American jazz clubs, where she eventually met my father.

Rouchswalwe, what a fascinating and romantic story both about the song, and about your parents!! I'd like to hear that Mahalia Jackson version.

My father used to sing that carol . . . I can still hear his voice in my head today, singing that, or "Four Strong Winds," which I think of as my personal Canadian anthem.
Hope you're warm and dry in all the snow and rain.

Lainie, your mention of "Four Strong Winds" sent me looking for it after many many years. I found a YouTube link of Ian Tyson (who composed it) singing it with ex-wife Sylvia. Thanks for the memories shared! Yes, we're warm and dry, staying close to home. Hope you had a good holiday.

Here is Mahalia Jackson's version of Silent Night:

Thanks, rouchswalwe, I love her voice and this is beautiful.

I had a suspicion that this would be the source and Wiki suggests it is:

'The tune is that of "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("It is time for flowering"), a 13th-century spring carol, first published in the Swedish/Finnish Piae Cantiones, 1582.'

I have a Naxos CD of the cantiones, but that song isn't on it.

Kate, that's fantastic detective work, thanks so much! I don't think I know the cantiones.