BURGEONING LADS OF SCIENCE

I'm Benito. I write comics; for example: Tales from the Bully Pulpit, The Tick New Series, Guarding the Globe, Hector Plasm, and EVEN MORE. I will talk about these AND MORE. FOR FREE, on your very own personal computing device.

jacobking-posts asked: Hey Benito, can you settle for me is the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Father Christmas distinct from the Santa Claus tradition?

Well:

It is accurate to say that the Father Christmas tradition is distinct from the Saint Nicholas tradition.

It is harder to say that there is no overlap between Father Christmas and Santa Claus, because Father Christmas influenced Santa, and then Santa influenced Father Christmas.

Father Christmas, who first appears in carols and plays around the 15th century, is not originally a gift-giving figure, nor is he a character meant for children, initially. He’s the Lord of Misrule, and his job is to help you get fucked up on wassail and goose.

But by the 19th century, Father Christmas, St Nicholas, and the nascent Santa Claus kind of get irrevocably conflated, and British people have not stopped being angry about it since.

anne-ching asked: I actually found it on Google and started reading your posts. Also, I'd be interested to know your sources for the foundling and limp stories, especially if there are any sources outside of Wikipedia, because the only place I can find anything on them is Wiki. Your posts and articles are awesome btw. :) Also I don't know how you'll react to this, but I'll probably post a link to my take on this character on my Tumblr, so if you want to read it you can.

anne-ching:

benito-cereno:

Unfortunately, I have not been doing a very good job of keeping track of my sources for individual pieces of information since the work I’m doing is not particularly academic. I’ll pick something up from some random text on Google books and not bother to write down the title. Not very professional, I know. Generally speaking, my criteria for accepting a piece of information as “fact” enough to include in my text are 1) is it interesting? and 2) do a plurality of people seem to believe it? As such, it’s entirely possible that I saw the foundling idea on enough Google hits that I decided to incorporate it (even though doubtless some 90% of those hits are just people parroting what Wikipedia says).

In my estimation, the best proof you have that the foundling element is authentic is that it was told to you by an actual German person. That’s generally the rubric for authenticity in folklore, so that might be the best you can get.

If you’re looking for an actual folktale about the history of Knecht Ruprecht, you might be out of luck. The most famous piece of written work about him is a poem by Theodor Storm, but that doesn’t add any biographical details, really. Even the Grimms, when they talk about him, only compare him to other similar figures and speculate on the origin of his name, but as far as I know, do not collect an actual tale about him.

Believe me, I feel your pain on trying to chase the ghost that is the source material on this stuff. I’m doing it on not just Knecht Ruprecht, but for fifty different characters. Consider putting together a folk history of Mrs Claus: it doesn’t exist. She springs fully formed into literary works, but has no story of her own. How do you assemble that? And Knecht Ruprecht and Mrs Claus are two of the most popular figures, so imagine how I’m tearing my hair out trying to put together a history and life for Mother Goody, a New Year’s figure from the Maritime provinces.

I know you were probably hoping for a better answer, namely a link to an authentic folktale, but really the best advice I can offer is to realize that sometimes you’re just going to have to make things up to fill in the blanks and trust that the research that you have done allows you to stay true to the spirit of the thing so that it still feels authentic. For someone like me who values accuracy over almost anything else, this can be a difficult thing to accept, but I think you’ll find that if the story is well-told and true to the original spirit, people will accept it.

And yes, of course I’d love to see your take on the character. If you are the person I’ve seen all over Google asking this same question, I think we probably have two very different takes on Knecht Ruprecht, so I’d be interested to see what you’ve come up with.

Was going to reblog this again, but yeah  embarrassingly I now feel like a crazy woman. Thank you for confirming I’m not crazy because a) there isn’t really a traditional folktale  around and b) making up stuff is OK as long as relatively plausible and keeps to the spirit of the thing. I hope my changes do both.

Are you sure Mrs. Claus is purely literary though? I’ve come across references to a character called the “Nikolofrau” who is mentioned as being St. Nicholas’ wife in some parts of Austria. But the Nikolofrau’s pretty different to Mrs Claus; apparently she can be bit of a shrew. Of course she might actually be a female counterpart to Nicholas and not actually meant to be his wife. Also at least historically in the Tyrol region of Austria and in Switzerland, St. Lucy accompanied St. Nicholas on December 6, giving gifts to girls while he gave gifts to boys. Apparently this still takes place in some Swiss villages. Some people saw her as his wife, so maybe she and the Nikolofrau are the traditions behind Mrs. Claus, or the general idea of Santa/St.Nicholas being married?

Also you might know this too but I’ve also come across mentions of Knecht Ruprecht being a Black African. A friend I have mentioned that when she was a kid, she thought that Knecht Ruprecht came over from Africa on a boat with St. Nicholas. She lives on the German side of the German-Dutch border.

My personal theory is that (spoiler) Nikolofrau, Lutzelfrau, Pudelmutter and Budelfrau and Perchta are all nicknames for St. Lucy and that she and St. Nicholas are shapeshifters who change their appearances and addresses to stay hidden when they do their gift giving and demon fighting. 

You can find the story (or at least its beginning) in this post on my Tumblr.

Don’t feel crazy. It will be fine. :)

I say Mrs Claus is literary, because, while I can’t say this for sure, I would wager her arrival in culture is independent of any tradition of the Nikolofrau. Partly because the now ubiquitous American version of Santa Claus is primarily influenced by the Dutch Sinterklaas of New York Knickerbockers and not as much the German/Austrian version, but also because as Santa grew apart from any traditional religious version of Nicholas of Myra and became his own kind of thing in the 19th century, it was a natural impulse on the part of poets and cartoonists and postcard manufacturers and what have you to give him some sort of home life.

St Lucy definitely persists in wintertime traditions in various parts of Europe—Scandinavia notably, as well as some regions of Italy—but again I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say she was an influence on Mrs Claus. But maybe! This stuff is all super nebulous.

As for Knecht Ruprecht being a Black African, that sounds like conflation with Zwarte Piet to me, as Piet is the only of Nicholas’s companions to be traditionally depicted as black. Face-blacking (to be completely clear, this is distinct from blackface in purpose and intent) is common with many companions, but it’s only with Piet that it’s intended to be his actual skin color (in which case, it actually, sadly, IS blackface). Traditionally the face-blacking is thought these days to represent chimney soot, though it likely has its roots in depictions of the European wildman (which are not likely to be race-related, fwiw). 

While many sites and writers might conflate all or many of the companions of Nicholas into one figure, to me there is a clear delineation between, for example, Ruprecht, Krampus, and Piet. Those guys are not similar other than being Nicholas’s bad cop (even that’s not consistent among them: Krampus is scarier than Ruprecht who is scarier than Piet).

Checking your Google Docs now. Looking forward to seeing your take on things. :)

rdw0409 asked: Always love your Ask answers, specifically the holiday-related ones; wanted to get this in before the Christmas rush: How old is that "Santa is an ANAGRAM for SATAN OMG" bit? I want to know just how not-clever the next person to try it on me is being.

Well, it’s at least as old as that Dana Carvey Church Lady sketch where he spelled it out on a magnet board. I don’t remember which season that was in, but he did that character through the late 80s.

It probably pre-dates that by a few years, though. While there has always been controversy over the religious vs secular (or pagan) elements of Christmas, the current controversy probably stems back to about the early 80s, when Christianity started becoming embroiled in politics, primarily conservatism. That would be when you really start seeing people trying to demonize the more commercial aspects of the holiday. If I had to guess, I would say that was the origin of that particular “joke.”

It’s not likely to be older than the 20th century, because “Santa” as a name for the gift-bringer originates in the 19th century and doesn’t become the big thing until late 1800s/early 1900s. And we as a country were basically all about consumerism for most of the middle of the century (though by the 50s, you have people getting REALLY MAD about the use of “Xmas” [which, as I’ve explained before, is actually Christian in origin], but that’s a slightly different thing; here’s a bit by CS Lewis bemoaning the religious/secular divide in celebrations that uses the Xmas/Christmas difference as a thing).

So: while I would guess it originated in the early 80s, it could be as old as the 1950s. At any rate, anyone who’s coming up with it now is about as original as someone saying “Where’s the beef?”

anne-ching asked: I actually found it on Google and started reading your posts. Also, I'd be interested to know your sources for the foundling and limp stories, especially if there are any sources outside of Wikipedia, because the only place I can find anything on them is Wiki. Your posts and articles are awesome btw. :) Also I don't know how you'll react to this, but I'll probably post a link to my take on this character on my Tumblr, so if you want to read it you can.

Unfortunately, I have not been doing a very good job of keeping track of my sources for individual pieces of information since the work I’m doing is not particularly academic. I’ll pick something up from some random text on Google books and not bother to write down the title. Not very professional, I know. Generally speaking, my criteria for accepting a piece of information as “fact” enough to include in my text are 1) is it interesting? and 2) do a plurality of people seem to believe it? As such, it’s entirely possible that I saw the foundling idea on enough Google hits that I decided to incorporate it (even though doubtless some 90% of those hits are just people parroting what Wikipedia says).

In my estimation, the best proof you have that the foundling element is authentic is that it was told to you by an actual German person. That’s generally the rubric for authenticity in folklore, so that might be the best you can get.

If you’re looking for an actual folktale about the history of Knecht Ruprecht, you might be out of luck. The most famous piece of written work about him is a poem by Theodor Storm, but that doesn’t add any biographical details, really. Even the Grimms, when they talk about him, only compare him to other similar figures and speculate on the origin of his name, but as far as I know, do not collect an actual tale about him.

Believe me, I feel your pain on trying to chase the ghost that is the source material on this stuff. I’m doing it on not just Knecht Ruprecht, but for fifty different characters. Consider putting together a folk history of Mrs Claus: it doesn’t exist. She springs fully formed into literary works, but has no story of her own. How do you assemble that? And Knecht Ruprecht and Mrs Claus are two of the most popular figures, so imagine how I’m tearing my hair out trying to put together a history and life for Mother Goody, a New Year’s figure from the Maritime provinces.

I know you were probably hoping for a better answer, namely a link to an authentic folktale, but really the best advice I can offer is to realize that sometimes you’re just going to have to make things up to fill in the blanks and trust that the research that you have done allows you to stay true to the spirit of the thing so that it still feels authentic. For someone like me who values accuracy over almost anything else, this can be a difficult thing to accept, but I think you’ll find that if the story is well-told and true to the original spirit, people will accept it.

And yes, of course I’d love to see your take on the character. If you are the person I’ve seen all over Google asking this same question, I think we probably have two very different takes on Knecht Ruprecht, so I’d be interested to see what you’ve come up with.

anne-ching asked: Hi Benito. You'll probably think this is a very random question especially since I'm new to Tumblr (I literally only just joined). I started writing a draft of a fantasy novel about Knecht Ruprecht and inspired by folklore aboutSt. Nicholas and St. Lucy. I started googling and asking questions. Someone on a forum I'm on is German and told me one story about Ruprecht: that he was an orphan that St. Nicholas took in as an apprentice. Wiki also claims that he limps. Have you ever heard of this?

Hello! Welcome to Tumblr!

I don’t find this question to be random at all. In fact, you’ve come to 100% the right place for it.

I’m not sure how you found this blog or knew I was the one to ask this question, but you may know I myself am writing a book about Christmas and Christmas-adjacent lore from around the world. Needless to say, Knecht Ruprecht is part of that.

I have definitely encountered both of the elements you mentioned—being a foundling and walking with a limp—and have incorporated both of them into my account of the life of Knecht Ruprecht. The thing I think you will find is that, as with many folkloric characters—there are not many more details than that. (Think, for example, about what we really “know” about the Tooth Fairy—she takes teeth and gives you money. But why? Where does she live? How did she get started? etc. We don’t know these things.) As such, you kind of have to figure out a way to fill in those blanks yourself.

Of course, I have my own solutions for these things, but they are, of course, my solutions. ;)

January 6: Epiphany
After the last drummer has drummed on the 12th day of Christmas, it’s the day of Epiphany, which celebrates the Adoration of the Christ child by the Magi aka the Wise Men aka the Three Kings. In some denominations of Christianity, this day also celebrates Jesus’s baptism and his first miracle at the wedding at Cana.
January 5 is known as Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night. For a lot of cultures, this is the big gift-giving, parade-having holiday rather than Christmas.
Things that happen January 5-6 include, but are not limited to:
In many cultures, especially in Spain and Latin American countries, the Three Kings come through town distributing presents and leading a parade. The Kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar (spellings vary widely, but these are the most common) go through town writing their initials in chalk over the doorframes of houses: C+M+B. This is also an abbreviation for “Christus mansionem benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this house.”
In the Alpine regions of Northern Italy, a young man, an old man, a young woman, and an old woman draw out and capture the Badalisc, a dragon who lives in the woods around their village. After a prolonged duel with witches and a hunchback, the Badalisc is led to the town square where he has a villager read off a list of grievances he has with the town written in verse. Then everyone eats polenta.
Orthodox priests in Greece and elsewhere bless the waters by throwing a cross into the nearest body of living water. Young men will then dive into the water, racing to be the first to retrieve it and receive the blessing of a year’s worth of luck. This act drives away the kallikantzaroi, mischievous goblins who make trouble for the Greek people during the twelve days of Christmas, and they go back to trying to saw down Yggdrasil, the world tree.
The last of the Yule Lads goes back to the lava fields.
La Befana, the friendly witch of Epiphany, flies through the skies of Italy and shimmies down chimneys, delivering presents to good children and coal to bad ones (and sweeping the floors). The day of Epiphany, she can be found in the town square, playing accordion, juggling, dancing, and singing off-key.
Perchta leads her wild hunt of the souls of unbaptized children through the streets, frightening off evil spirits by rattling chains and ringing bells.
Benito ends his Advent calendar, and stops his Christmas posting for another year. 
That’s it, everyone. Whichever day you celebrate, however you celebrate, if you do at all, I hope you have found something of value the last six weeks. Thanks for joining me, everyone.

January 6: Epiphany

After the last drummer has drummed on the 12th day of Christmas, it’s the day of Epiphany, which celebrates the Adoration of the Christ child by the Magi aka the Wise Men aka the Three Kings. In some denominations of Christianity, this day also celebrates Jesus’s baptism and his first miracle at the wedding at Cana.

January 5 is known as Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night. For a lot of cultures, this is the big gift-giving, parade-having holiday rather than Christmas.

Things that happen January 5-6 include, but are not limited to:

  • In many cultures, especially in Spain and Latin American countries, the Three Kings come through town distributing presents and leading a parade. The Kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar (spellings vary widely, but these are the most common) go through town writing their initials in chalk over the doorframes of houses: C+M+B. This is also an abbreviation for “Christus mansionem benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this house.”
  • In the Alpine regions of Northern Italy, a young man, an old man, a young woman, and an old woman draw out and capture the Badalisc, a dragon who lives in the woods around their village. After a prolonged duel with witches and a hunchback, the Badalisc is led to the town square where he has a villager read off a list of grievances he has with the town written in verse. Then everyone eats polenta.
  • Orthodox priests in Greece and elsewhere bless the waters by throwing a cross into the nearest body of living water. Young men will then dive into the water, racing to be the first to retrieve it and receive the blessing of a year’s worth of luck. This act drives away the kallikantzaroi, mischievous goblins who make trouble for the Greek people during the twelve days of Christmas, and they go back to trying to saw down Yggdrasil, the world tree.
  • The last of the Yule Lads goes back to the lava fields.
  • La Befana, the friendly witch of Epiphany, flies through the skies of Italy and shimmies down chimneys, delivering presents to good children and coal to bad ones (and sweeping the floors). The day of Epiphany, she can be found in the town square, playing accordion, juggling, dancing, and singing off-key.
  • Perchta leads her wild hunt of the souls of unbaptized children through the streets, frightening off evil spirits by rattling chains and ringing bells.
  • Benito ends his Advent calendar, and stops his Christmas posting for another year. 

That’s it, everyone. Whichever day you celebrate, however you celebrate, if you do at all, I hope you have found something of value the last six weeks. Thanks for joining me, everyone.

January 1: St Basil’s Day
In addition to being the first day of the new year, the first of January is a day of gift-giving in several parts of the world. One of these places is Greece, where children are visited by Saint Basil the Great on the first of the year.
From my forthcoming book:

Saint Basil of Caesarea, also known as Basil the Great, was a Greek bishop in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), who lived in the fourth century AD (he was born shortly before Saint Nicholas died). He was one of the most influential theologians of all time due to his fierce opposition to heresies and his many writings on Christian philosophy, which led to him receiving the title of “Ouranophantor,” or “revealer of the mysteries of heaven.”
…
Although he was known for a short temper which he displayed against heretics, and even against the Roman emperor himself (the emperor Valens asked Basil to compromise with a faction of heretics and Basil staunchly refused. When the emperor said no one had spoken to him like that before, Basil replied, “Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop.”), Basil was even more famous for his generosity and compassion. He personally selected priests who would not be persuaded into corruption by wealth, and criticized government officials who did not adhere to their duty of providing justice for the people.
…
But probably the most famous story of Saint Basil comes from his conflict with an earlier emperor, one who was known as Julian the Apostate because he had tried to turn Rome away from Christianity and back to the ancient pagan religion they had left behind. Basil and Julian had met each other as young men studying in Athens. Julian had never liked Basil, and so when he grew up to become the emperor of Rome, he put great pressure on Caesarea, where Basil was the bishop.
 Julian threatened to crush the people of Caesarea with a huge army due to an argument he had had with Basil. The poor people of Caesarea knew they were in great danger, and so they amassed all of their gold, jewels, and other precious possessions in order to present them to the greedy Roman emperor. However, when Basil presented these treasures to the emperor’s messenger, the saint’s harsh words and the willingness of the destitute people of Caesarea to sacrifice everything they had greatly embarrassed the messenger, and he left without collecting payment. (The emperor himself died in battle soon after.)
 With the payment uncollected, Basil found himself surrounded by piles of gold and jewels and with no idea what belonged to whom that he might return them to their owners. His solution was this: he had each piece of treasure baked into a pie, which he then distributed to the people of Caesarea. Miraculously, when each person cut into the pie, they found inside exactly the treasure that had belonged to them.
 This great miracle is re-enacted in Greece and elsewhere each Saint Basil’s Day (January 1), when a vasilopita (Basil’s pie) is baked with a coin inside, and slices are cut for everyone present, plus slices for Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Basil, the Church, the house, the traveler, the visitor, the poor, and the Kallikantzaroi. Whoever gets the piece with the coin receives a special blessing or gift.
 Each January 1, Saint Basil travels the Hellenic world, touching dead branches with his staff and causing them to grow again, and distributing presents to children all over Greece, including the greatest present of all: wisdom. As Saint Basil said: “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

January 1: St Basil’s Day

In addition to being the first day of the new year, the first of January is a day of gift-giving in several parts of the world. One of these places is Greece, where children are visited by Saint Basil the Great on the first of the year.

From my forthcoming book:

Saint Basil of Caesarea, also known as Basil the Great, was a Greek bishop in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), who lived in the fourth century AD (he was born shortly before Saint Nicholas died). He was one of the most influential theologians of all time due to his fierce opposition to heresies and his many writings on Christian philosophy, which led to him receiving the title of “Ouranophantor,” or “revealer of the mysteries of heaven.”

Although he was known for a short temper which he displayed against heretics, and even against the Roman emperor himself (the emperor Valens asked Basil to compromise with a faction of heretics and Basil staunchly refused. When the emperor said no one had spoken to him like that before, Basil replied, “Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop.”), Basil was even more famous for his generosity and compassion. He personally selected priests who would not be persuaded into corruption by wealth, and criticized government officials who did not adhere to their duty of providing justice for the people.

But probably the most famous story of Saint Basil comes from his conflict with an earlier emperor, one who was known as Julian the Apostate because he had tried to turn Rome away from Christianity and back to the ancient pagan religion they had left behind. Basil and Julian had met each other as young men studying in Athens. Julian had never liked Basil, and so when he grew up to become the emperor of Rome, he put great pressure on Caesarea, where Basil was the bishop.

Julian threatened to crush the people of Caesarea with a huge army due to an argument he had had with Basil. The poor people of Caesarea knew they were in great danger, and so they amassed all of their gold, jewels, and other precious possessions in order to present them to the greedy Roman emperor. However, when Basil presented these treasures to the emperor’s messenger, the saint’s harsh words and the willingness of the destitute people of Caesarea to sacrifice everything they had greatly embarrassed the messenger, and he left without collecting payment. (The emperor himself died in battle soon after.)

With the payment uncollected, Basil found himself surrounded by piles of gold and jewels and with no idea what belonged to whom that he might return them to their owners. His solution was this: he had each piece of treasure baked into a pie, which he then distributed to the people of Caesarea. Miraculously, when each person cut into the pie, they found inside exactly the treasure that had belonged to them.

This great miracle is re-enacted in Greece and elsewhere each Saint Basil’s Day (January 1), when a vasilopita (Basil’s pie) is baked with a coin inside, and slices are cut for everyone present, plus slices for Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Basil, the Church, the house, the traveler, the visitor, the poor, and the Kallikantzaroi. Whoever gets the piece with the coin receives a special blessing or gift.

Each January 1, Saint Basil travels the Hellenic world, touching dead branches with his staff and causing them to grow again, and distributing presents to children all over Greece, including the greatest present of all: wisdom. As Saint Basil said: “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

December 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents

As the Magi followed the star they had seen in the east, they made their way to Judea, where they were welcomed by Herod the Great, the Roman king of Judea. The Magi informed Herod that they were looking for the child born king of the Jews, and Herod directed them toward Bethlehem and told them to report back to him if they found this new king.

The Magi, of course, found the baby Jesus, but were warned by an angel not to return to Herod with news. Herod, enraged that he was to be replaced as king of Judea, ordered every child in Bethlehem under the age of two to be slaughtered. Based on estimates of Bethlehem’s population at that time (ca 1000 people), this would have amounted to about twenty children. (The baby Jesus is preserved as an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and warns them to flee into Egypt.)

The fifth century Roman writer Macrobius adds the detail that, leaving no stone unturned and no baby unmurdered, Herod had his own young son killed. The emperor Augustus is said to have reacted to this news by saying, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”

The slain infants are known in some churches as the Holy Innocents, and some churches consider them the earliest martyrs for Christ. The Massacre of the Holy Innocents is commemorated by western churches on December 28, Syriac churches on the 27, and the Eastern Orthodox church on the 29.

In many Spanish-speaking countries, December 28 is known as Innocents’ Day and is a day of pranks, much like April Fools Day. Friends pull pranks known as inocentadas on each other and claim that their victims shouldn’t be mad, as on this day the pranksters are innocent of any sin.

The Massacre of the Innocents is remembered through a carol known as the Coventry Carol, the only remaining song from a 16th century mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Lullay, thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,

For to preserve this day

This poor youngling for whom we do sing

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, in his owne sight,

All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!

And ever mourn and sigh,

For thy parting neither say nor sing,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

December 26: Saint Stephen’s Day
In addition to being known as the secular holiday of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas is also the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Many modern people may be most familiar with this feast from the well-known Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.”
Here’s some info on the good king from my forthcoming book:

Saint Wenceslaus, also spelled Wenceslas, known in his native language of Czech as Svatý Václav, was the duke of Bohemia (roughly the area of Central Europe known today as the Czech Republic) from the year 921 until his death in 935. Although he was only a duke in his lifetime, the Holy Roman Emperor made Wenceslaus a king after his death, because during his life he had been so kind and brave. In the Middle Ages, Wenceslaus was held up as a golden example of what they called a rex justus, or righteous king. That is why we know him best today as Good King Wenceslas.
…
The best known example of Wenceslaus’s selflessness came on the night of a certain Feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), when he saw a poor man struggling to gather firewood in the midst of a winter storm. He summoned his page, and together they gathered up food, wine, and firewood, and set out through the blizzard to find and help this man. As they pressed through the roaring winter wind, the page found that he had lost all his strength and could go no farther in the cold. Wenceslaus told him to take heart: if the page would only step where the duke himself had stepped, he would find himself warmed. And it was true: from the footprint of every step the mighty saint took rose light and warmth. In this way, the two men made their way to help the poor man return home safely, now with food, drink, and fuel.
 Sadly, the kindly duke was murdered by his brother at a young age, so we don’t know what kind deeds he could have performed later in life. However, it is said that Wenceslaus’s spirit is only sleeping. In the time that his land of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) is in the greatest danger, the statue of Wenceslaus in the city of Prague will come to life, ride his horse to the Charles Bridge, where he will find the sword of the great Czech hero, Bruncvík, and with this sword he will raise his army, which waits for him, sleeping in the mountain Blaník. So even now, King Wenceslaus is watching over his people.
 Even though Wenceslaus is not a gift-bringer at Christmas like Saint Nicholas, the spirit of generosity he showed on St. Stephen’s Day is reflected in many countries around the world on the day after Christmas, where it is often known as Boxing Day. On this day, many people who are fortunate enough to have a lot take the time to give to those less fortunate than themselves. Perhaps if you yourself were to set aside this day to help the needy, you would find, like King Wenceslaus’s page of old, that “you who will now bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing”!

December 26: Saint Stephen’s Day

In addition to being known as the secular holiday of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas is also the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Many modern people may be most familiar with this feast from the well-known Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.”

Here’s some info on the good king from my forthcoming book:

Saint Wenceslaus, also spelled Wenceslas, known in his native language of Czech as Svatý Václav, was the duke of Bohemia (roughly the area of Central Europe known today as the Czech Republic) from the year 921 until his death in 935. Although he was only a duke in his lifetime, the Holy Roman Emperor made Wenceslaus a king after his death, because during his life he had been so kind and brave. In the Middle Ages, Wenceslaus was held up as a golden example of what they called a rex justus, or righteous king. That is why we know him best today as Good King Wenceslas.

The best known example of Wenceslaus’s selflessness came on the night of a certain Feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), when he saw a poor man struggling to gather firewood in the midst of a winter storm. He summoned his page, and together they gathered up food, wine, and firewood, and set out through the blizzard to find and help this man. As they pressed through the roaring winter wind, the page found that he had lost all his strength and could go no farther in the cold. Wenceslaus told him to take heart: if the page would only step where the duke himself had stepped, he would find himself warmed. And it was true: from the footprint of every step the mighty saint took rose light and warmth. In this way, the two men made their way to help the poor man return home safely, now with food, drink, and fuel.

Sadly, the kindly duke was murdered by his brother at a young age, so we don’t know what kind deeds he could have performed later in life. However, it is said that Wenceslaus’s spirit is only sleeping. In the time that his land of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) is in the greatest danger, the statue of Wenceslaus in the city of Prague will come to life, ride his horse to the Charles Bridge, where he will find the sword of the great Czech hero, Bruncvík, and with this sword he will raise his army, which waits for him, sleeping in the mountain Blaník. So even now, King Wenceslaus is watching over his people.

Even though Wenceslaus is not a gift-bringer at Christmas like Saint Nicholas, the spirit of generosity he showed on St. Stephen’s Day is reflected in many countries around the world on the day after Christmas, where it is often known as Boxing Day. On this day, many people who are fortunate enough to have a lot take the time to give to those less fortunate than themselves. Perhaps if you yourself were to set aside this day to help the needy, you would find, like King Wenceslaus’s page of old, that “you who will now bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing”!

Anonymous asked: What's up with Boxing Day? My understanding is that it's from when English aristocrats would give their servants the day off after Christmas, and that now it's kind of like Labor Day in the US (a celebration of the Working Man). Is that true? Are there non-British-Commonwealth places that have Boxing Day?

It sounds like you’ve pretty much got it. It is traditionally a day of giving money and gifts to those in service positions, going back to the Middle Ages, with the origin of the term “boxing” possibly referring the box of alms collected for those in need, and it is celebrated primarily in British Commonwealth nations, where it has become a secular bank holiday very similar to Labor Day. People use it to shop and watch sports.

That’s about it, as far as I know.