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Fun English Practice 2: A Harder Holiday Song and a Little European History Too

(A glossary of the words spelled in all capital letters in this blog post appears at ITS end. See how much you can understand without looking at the glossary. Students: Remember to write new words in your vocabulary journal.)

Introduction

EVIDENCE of the Christian holiday Christmas is everywhere in December. The TWELVE days of Christmas begin on December 25, commonly called Christmas Day. December 26, more commonly in the United Kingdom than in the United States, is known as Boxing Day. However, at the time that this Christmas CAROL was written, BOXING DAY was also called the FEAST OF STEPHEN. This refers to Saint (St.) Stephen, a ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINT.

The Holiday Song

The LYRICS of “Good King Wenceslaus” (below) were written by John M. Neale (1818–1866). This carol was first published in Car­ols for CHRISTMAS-TIDE, by Neale with Thomas Helmore (1811–1890). This book was published in 1853.

The MELODY comes from a 13th-cen­tu­ry (1200s A.D.) Latin spring CAROL, not a winter or Christmas carol. This title of this Latin spring carol is “Tem­pus Adest Flor­i­dum.” In English, this means "The time is near for flowering."

Online, search for the title of this carol in quotation marks “Good King Wenceslaus” (or spelled Wenceslas) to hear it SUNG on websites, such as YouTube. On websites like NetHYMNAL, you can hear the melody and practice singing the lyrics as you listen.

A Piece of European History

Though “Good King Wenceslaus” is a popular Christmas carol in the 21st century, parts of it are 800 years old. John Neale may have confused King Wenceslaus I (1205–1253) with an earlier Wenceslaus I (907–935), who was a Roman Catholic SAINT. Our Wenceslaus I ruled Bohemia (Czech Republic in modern times) from 1230 until his death in 1253. (Death ends more ROYAL CAREERS than any other lifetime work I can think of!) His sister Agnes (1211–1282), was the ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINT in the family, St. Agnes of Bohemia. She is mentioned in this CAROL.

Read more about these saints in Catholics Online. Find them by using the “Saints Index” you will find here: http://www.catholic.org/saints/stindex.php.

Good King Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslaus 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 you know it,
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’S FOUNTAIN.”

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs HITHER,
You and I will see him DINE, when we BEAR them THITHER.”
Page and MONARCH, FORTH they went, FORTH they went together,
Through the cold 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 now in them boldly,
You SHALL find the winter’s RAGE FREEZE YOUR BLOOD LESS COLDLY.”

In his MASTER’S step he TROD where the snow lay dented;
Heat was in the very SOD which THE SAINT HAD PRINTED.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or RANK POSSESSING,
You who now will BLESS the poor SHALL yourselves find BLESSING.

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GLOSSARY OF WORDS AND PHRASES

BEAR: (verb) carry (not the large animal with long teeth and sharp claws!)

BITTER: (adjective, metaphor for the coldest cold) a strong, often unpleasant flavor that is the opposite of sweet

BLESS: (verb) help

BLESSING: (noun) help

CAREER: (noun) lengthy employment, often lifelong

CAROL: (noun) a holiday (usually Christmas) song or HYMN (See HYMNAL)

CHRISTMAS-TIDE: (noun, object of preposition) Christmas-Time

CONTEXT: (noun) the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning

CRUEL: (metaphor) harshly cold

DINE: (verb) eat a meal

DINTED: (adjective) dented or marked

DWELLING: (noun) home

EVEN: (adjective) flat

EVIDENCE: (noun) something which shows that something else exists, is true, or is happening

FAILS MY HEART(archaic, or old English expression) I’m feeling weak

FEAST OF STEPHEN: (Proper noun, referring to St. Stephen, the first disciple, or student of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. Stephen was martyred, or murdered for his religion.) a holiday occurring on December 26, the second (2nd) day of the TWELVE days of Christmas holiday. The Feast of Stephen is also called Boxing Day.

FLOWERING (adjective) plants blooming, or growing flowers

FORTH (adverb) forward (Not to be confused with fourth)

FOUNTAIN: structure that sends a stream of water into the air

FREEZE YOUR BLOOD LESS COLDLY: (archaic, or old English expression) chill you less

GO (verb) NO LONGER (adverb): (archaic, or old English expression) walk any farther, or more

HAD PRINTED: (past tense compound verb) had stepped or left footprints

HITHER: (archaic, or old English adverb) here

HYMNAL: (noun) a collection of Christian or Hebrew (Jewish) religious songs, or hymns.

ITS: possessive form of pronoun it

LAMENT: (noun metaphor for the sound of the wind) a song expressing sorrow

LEAGUE: (noun) a distance of 2.4-4.6 miles or 3.9-7.4 km (Nothing to do with the American sport baseball!)

LOOKED OUT: (verb) such as through, or out of a window or a door

LYRICS: words to a song

MARK: (archaic, or old English verb) see

MASTER’S: (possessive adjective) boss’s or employer’s

MELODY: (noun) music or tune

MONARCH: (noun) king or queen

ON: (preposition) in the context of this CAROL, during

PAGE: (noun) servant

PEASANT: (noun) poor worker of low social status standing

POSSESSING: (progressive present tense of verb possess) having, owning, or showing

RAGE: (noun, metaphor for strong wind) sudden, violent anger

RANK: (noun) social status, in this CONTEXT high social status

ROMAN CATHOLIC: (proper adjective) belonging or relating to the Christian church that is led by the pope

ROUND ABOUT: (Archaic English adverb) everywhere

ROYAL: (adjective) kingly or queenly

SAINT AGNES’S: (possessive form of a proper noun) St. Agnes of Bohemia (1211-1282) was the sister of our King Wenceslaus I.

SAINT: (noun) a person who is officially recognized by the Christian church as being very holy. In this carol, Neale wrongly, or incorrectly refers to our King Wenceslaus I as a saint.

SHALL: (Archaic English, part of a compound verb which describes an action that will take place in the future) will, in this carol will find

SHONE: (VERB) past tense of the verb shine

SIRE: (Archaic English formal form of address) Sir or Mister (Mr.)

SOD: (noun) soil or earth

SUNG: (verb) past tense of the verb sing

TELLING: (Archaic English) tell me

TREAD: (Archaic English verb) walk

TROD: (verb, Archaic English past tense of the verb tread) walked

TWELVE: 12

UNDERNEATH THE MOUNTAIN: (prepositional phrase) in a cave inside of a mountain

WINTER FUEL: wood (such as pine logs), chips (a piece of dried waste matter from an animal), or peat (material or soil made of dead plants) to burn

YONDER: (Archaic English adjective) standing or lying some distance away