According to the Book of Acts, St. Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian church. He was stoned to death shortly after the crucifixion of Christ due to his belief that Christ was the Messiah. St. Stephen’s Day – also known as Boxing Day – is the day after Christmas Day. A famous Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas,” describes a conversation between the Duke of Bohemia (Wenceslas), who was beatified by the church in the tenth century because of his kindness toward the poor and needy, and his page. The carol takes place on St. Stephen’s Day (the feast, or festival, of Stephen) – a fitting day for struggling to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
Good King Wenceslas (1853)
John Mason Neale (1818-1866)
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.
“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
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’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. ”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude 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, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.