Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen…

… which is today! On this second day of Christmas–2. Weihnachten in Germany, Boxing Day in the UK, and the day when true loves give turtledoves–those parts of the Western Church that honor such days commemorate the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Scripture doesn’t give us a clear indication of when Stephen’s death actually occurred, but given that this season celebrates the world-changing birth of Christ, it’s a fitting time to remember some of those whose lives He changed so radically.
So why the connection with Wenceslas?
Well, Wenceslas himself–technically a duke, not a king, but still ruler of Bohemia–is a saint and a martyr. He came to power after his father was killed during a clash between pagans and Christians, and he was in turn murdered by his brother at the instigation of forces opposed to Wenceslas’ religious policies (he’d placed Bohemia under German protection and brought in German priests with the Latin Rite to make up a shortage of Czech priests who used the Old Slavic Rite). Although his own feast is in September, Wenceslas was renowned for his kindness to the poor, and whether it’s a true story or not, the image of the monarch striding boldly through the bitter cold and snow to share his bounty with a suffering subject fits both with the kindness of the real Wenceslas and Stephen’s legacy as a deacon charged with caring for the poor.

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