Thursday, December 23, 2010

Good King Wenceslas

The answer to the 2010 Christmas Mystery is "Good King Wenceslas."

1. Good King Wenceslas look'd 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,
Gath'ring winter fuel.

2. "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."

3. "Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,
Bring me pine-logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Though the rude winds wild lament,
And the bitter weather.

4. "Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know now 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."

5. 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.

An Explanation of the Clues

Englishman John Mason Neale, an Anglican priest, had originally written about the legend of King Wenceslas (actually Duke Vaclav of Bohemia, but also known as St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of the present Czech Republic) in 1849 in a book dedicated to his daughter, Agnes. This became the basis for the words he created for the carol, "Good King Wenceslas" published in a book of carols in 1853. He set it to the tune we still sing today. Apparently he wanted to inspire children to be generous on St. Stephen's Day, December 26, known as Boxing Day in England. On Boxing Day it is a custom to give boxed gifts to people in service jobs, like mail carriers, as well as to charitable institutions and the poor.

Explanation of the clues:

* The eight boxes prominently displayed in the photo are a reference to Boxing Day.

* Two of the boxes are green and six of the boxes are red. These point to the digits "2" and "6" making up 26, as in December 26, St. Stephen's Day.

* The meat and wine bottle in one box refer to the "flesh" and "wine" requested by the King in the carol. The wine comes from Carousel Winery in Bedford, Indiana.

* A photograph of my mother, Agnes Kissel, has been placed in one box. This is primarily an allusion to the "Saint Agnes' fountain" found in the carol, but also to Agnes, the daughter of John Mason Neale, noted above.

* In the rear can be seen one page open from the children's book, Good King Wenceslas by Tim Ladwig (and John M. Neale), published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. The partially obscured page shows the King walking through the snow followed by his page. The illustration also includes the page's dog and the dog's tracks, making for an image slightly at odds with the carol.

* Snow is prominent throughout the photograph, as it is throughout the carol.

* Hanging from the tree is an ornament with a prominent snow scene. The ornament is from the Czech Republic. This is the "gift" to "next festoon, Your most humble dwelling."

* In one box a New Testament in the original Greek is opened to Acts 7:58-59, at which point Stephen is stoned.

* In another box is a travel book for England opened to a page covering East Grinstead, where John Mason Neale lived.

* Also shown in a box is a hymnal open to the Advent hymn, "O Come O Come Emmanuel." John Mason Neale produced the lyrics to this hymn based on his translation of Latin verses.

* Barely seen in one box is a photograph of a very small part of the statue of St. Wenceslas in Wenceslas Square in Prague, the Czech Republic. Actually, only the flag being held high by Wenceslas in the statue is seen. It was felt that showing the entire statue would give away the riddle too easily.

* Two pine logs can be seen in the rear of the photo, referring to the "pine logs" requested by the King.

* Some sticks and twigs can be seen coming out of one box sitting on its side. This is an allusion to the "winter fuel" being gathered by the poor man.

* The rhythmic pattern of the verse inviting people to solve this mystery has exactly the same rhythmic pattern as the carol. Also, the verse includes "telling" and "dwelling" as rhyming words, as does the carol.

* The wintry background of the website and of the Christmas card refer to the harsh winter conditions described in the carol.