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Happy Sales and Returns Day

Wren

While December 26th is celebrated by a lot of people in the US in shopping malls returning gifts or taking advantage of inventory clearance sales, there are other celebrations.

It is the first day of the Kwanzaa celebration, which is explained at the link.

It is Boxing Day, a celebration of noblisse oblige when the upper classes bestow gifts on the lower and the contents of the poor boxes are distributed. Under the feudal system this was part of the “contract,” the mutual system of obligations that tied the system together.

As the feast of St. Stephen it honors the first Christian martyr, but Ireland’s Saint Stephen’s Day celebration is a bit different and is the reason for the wren on this post.

However, this post is really my complaint about “Good King Whatshisface.”

I have always found Good King Wenceslas really annoying.

This is a real guy, although he was the Duke of Bohemia, and not a king, he was a real member of the 10th century aristocracy, and he is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. He is revered as a kind man for the way he treated children and slaves. Apparently owning slaves is fine as long as you don’t kill too many.

His mother had his grandmother, her mother-in-law, strangled, and he forced his mother out at sword point. He sounds more like he was ready for Dr. Phil, than canonization.

So then we get to the song. The song says that on Saint Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, he sees one of his peasants out scrounging up fallen limbs to heat his humble hovel, and Wenceslas carries food and a few logs to the peasant’s abode to brighten up the holiday.

At the time commoners weren’t allowed to cut trees for firewood nor hunt, as those were the rights of the aristocracy. They were allowed to pick up dead limbs in the forest to heat their homes. They would have a fire in their shacks and a smoke hole in the roof, not a fireplace, so the logs weren’t going to be useful unless they were split.

On the day after Christmas there were sure to be a lot of leftovers that would go to the kennels, so the “Good King” Wenceslas was carting dog food to a peasant, who was expected to be overcome with gratitude at the beneficence of his Duke.

There is a happy ending: Wenceslas was murdered by his brother’s goons after five years of oppressing the peasants.

The Church felt kindly towards Wenceslas because his mother was rather repressive towards the Church, while he wasn’t, so he became a martyr.

Wenceslas reminds me of all of the people who make a donation so poor people can have a good Christmas dinner, without a thought about what they have to eat the rest of the year.

8 comments

1 Steve Bates { 12.26.10 at 1:53 am }

Wenceslas, inventor of the Dogfood Commission…

Before I understood the carol (even taken at face value), I used to like the idea of a Feast of Stephen. Sometimes I still do!

2 Bryan { 12.26.10 at 11:20 am }

Legend does tend to distort history, and history is distorted by those who write it. Much history was distorted by clerics, who were the majority that wrote things down and tended to slant the “news” to reflect the current policy of their superiors. This is how a political assassination becomes martyrdom, a practice that still continues.

As long as you aren’t out crushing wrens, I see no reason not to celebrate your “name saint”.

3 oldwhitelady { 12.26.10 at 11:25 am }

I hadn’t realized that the king was a real person. Thank you for sharing that. I guess songs are created for all sorts of people. Too bad he was such a rotter. I enjoyed singing that song, way back when.

I didn’t realize the pictures at the top of the blog changed everytime a person clicks to come back to the whole blog. That is really cool. Great pictures, too:)

4 Bryan { 12.26.10 at 12:00 pm }

To be successful, almost all legends have to be based on some truth, even things like Dracula, because, while humans are amazingly inventive, they need a starting point.

Actually, he was probably “very enlightened” for his time and place, but not a candidate for a role model.

I have six different headers that I change from time-to=time and they cycle at random whenever the page is loaded.

5 ellroon { 12.27.10 at 12:00 am }

Good king Wenchislassses always seemed a little disconnected to his serfs. Good to know the back story.

6 Bryan { 12.27.10 at 12:22 am }

Ellroon, you have probably seen the woodcut of a conquistador kicking a Native American, it shows up in history texts all the time. What few people realize is that wasn’t the “Euro trash” being nasty to the indigenous population, that was a fine example of the treatment of the European peasant by their own aristocracy. The problem for the indigenous population is that they got treated exactly like the lower classes in Europe, not that they were treated differently.

Imprisonment for crime is a relatively recent improvement in the criminal justice system. Normally all crime was punishable by death. The aristocracy wasn’t going to waste space or food on unproductive people, especially if they caused trouble. Only the upper class was imprisoned, and that was in anticipation of a ransom being paid.

Based on the cultural norms for their time, Vlad Drakula – the Impaler, was fairly middle of the road, and “Ivan the Terrible” was amazingly liberal. It is applying our societal norms to their reigns that has produced the negative image. They were homicidal jerks, but so were all of the other rulers of their time. Torturer and Executioner were civil service positions for a very long time.

7 paintedjaguar { 12.27.10 at 6:02 am }

“all of the people who make a donation so poor people can have a good Christmas dinner, without a thought about what they have to eat the rest of the year.”

I’ve had this very thought running through my head for about the past month, Bryan. Guess I just haven’t had the Christmas spirit.

8 Bryan { 12.27.10 at 10:19 pm }

No, PJ, the problem is that too many people think the “spirit” is limited to Christmas, when it should extend throughout the year. We have a program that provides food to students on the school lunch program for the weekends, as it was discovered that the lunches were the only meals those kids could count on. That should not be necessary in this country.