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Eleventh numbers are:13. Good King Wenceslas
"Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol that tells a story of a Czech king going on a journey in braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the day after Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king's footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia or Svatý Václav in Czech (907–935). The name Wenceslas is a latinised version of the modern Czech language "Vaclav".
In 1853, English hymnwriter John Mason Neale wrote the "Wenceslas" lyrics, in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Helmore, and the carol first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide, 1853. Neale's lyrics were set to the melody of a 13th-century spring carol "Tempus adest floridum" ("The time is near for flowering") first published in the 1582 Finnish song collection Piae Cantiones.
Wenceslas was son of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia from the Přemyslid dynasty. His father was raised in a Christian milieu through his own father, Borivoj I of Bohemia, who was converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius. His mother Drahomíra was the daughter of a pagan tribal chief of Havolans and was baptized at the time of her marriage.
In 921, when Wenceslas was thirteen, his father died and he was brought up by his grandmother, Saint Ludmila, who raised him as a Christian. A dispute between the fervently Christian regent and her daughter-in-law drove Ludmila to seek sanctuary at Tetín Castle near Beroun. Drahomíra, who was trying to garner support from the nobility, was furious about losing influence on her son and arranged to have Ludmila strangled at Tetín on September 15, 921. Wenceslas is usually described as exceptionally pious and humble, and a very educated and intelligent young man.
According to some legends, having regained control of her son, Drahomíra set out to convert him to the old pagan religion. According to other legends, she was a Christian herself; however, very little is known about her rule.
After the fall of Great Moravia, the rulers of the Bohemian duchy had to deal both with continuous raids by the Magyars and the forces of the Saxon duke and East Frankish king Henry the Fowler, who had started several eastern campaigns into the adjacent lands of the Polabian Slavs, homeland of Wenceslas's mother. To withstand Saxon overlordship Wenceslas's father Vratislaus had forged an alliance with the Bavarian duke Arnulf the Bad, then a fierce opponent of King Henry; however, it became worthless when Arnulf and Henry reconciled at Regensburg in 921.
In 924 or 925 Wenceslas assumed government for himself and had Drahomíra exiled. After gaining the throne at the age of eighteen, he defeated a rebellious duke of Kouřim named Radslav. He also founded a rotunda consecrated to St Vitus at Prague Castle in Prague, which exists as present-day St Vitus Cathedral.
Early in 929 the joint forces of Duke Arnulf of Bavaria and King Henry I the Fowler reached Prague in a sudden attack, which forced Wenceslas to resume the payment of a tribute which had been first imposed by the East Frankish king Arnulf of Carinthia in 895. Henry had been forced to pay a huge tribute to the Magyars in 926 and he therefore needed the Bohemian tribute which Wenceslas probably refused to pay any longer after the reconciliation between Arnulf and Henry. One of the possible reasons for Henry's attack was also the formation of the anti-Saxon alliance between Bohemia, the Polabian Slavs and the Magyars.
In September 935 a group of nobles—allied with Wenceslas' younger brother Boleslav—plotted to kill the Duke. After Boleslav invited Wenceslas to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará Boleslav, three of Boleslav's companions—Tira, Česta and Hněvsa—murdered Wenceslas on his way to church after a quarrel between him and his brother. As he fell down, Wenceslas murmured words of forgiveness for his brother. Boleslav thus succeeded him as the Duke of Bohemia.
According to Cosmas' Chronicle, one of Boleslav's sons was born on the day of Wenceslas' death, and because of the ominous circumstance of his birth the infant was named Strachkvas, which means "a dreadful feast".
There are discrepancies in the records regarding the date of St Wenceslas' death. It has been argued that Wenceslas' remains were transferred to St Vitus' Church in 932, ruling out the later date; however, the year 935 is now favored by historians as the date of his murder.
There is a tradition which states that Saint Wenceslas' loyal servant, Podevin, avenged his death by killing one of the chief conspirators. Podevin was executed by Boleslav.
Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death in the 10th century, when a cult of Wenceslas grew up in Bohemia and in England. Within a few decades of Wenceslas's death, four biographies of him were in circulation. These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex justus, or "righteous king"—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.
Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, a preacher from 12th century says:
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.
Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II, who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.
Although Wenceslas was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously "conferred on [Wenceslas] the regal dignity and title" and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a "king". Wenceslas is not to be confused with King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia (Wenceslaus I Premyslid), who lived more than three centuries later.
An equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslaus and other patrons of Bohemia (St. Adalbert, St. Ludmila, St. Prokop and St. Agnes of Bohemia) is located on Wenceslaus Square in Prague. His helmet and armour are on display inside Prague Castle.
The hymn "Svatý Václave" (Saint Wenceslas) or "Saint Wenceslas Chorale" is one of the oldest known Czech songs in history. Its roots can be found in the 12th century and it still belongs to the most popular religious songs to this day. In 1918, in the beginning of the Czechoslovak state, the song was discussed as one of the possible choices for the national anthem.
His feast day is celebrated on September 28, while the translation of his relics, which took place in 938, is commemorated on March 4.
Since 2000, the feast day of Saint Wenceslas (September 28) is a public holiday in the Czech Republic, celebrated as the Czech Statehood Day.
Wenceslaus is the subject of the popular Saint Stephen's Day (celebrated on December 26 in the West) Carol, "Good King Wenceslas". It was published by John Mason Neale in 1853, and may be a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda.
An enduring legend claims a huge army of knights sleep inside Blaník, a mountain in the Czech Republic. The knights will awake and under the command of St. Wenceslaus and bring aid to the Czech people when they face ultimate danger. There is a similar great legend in Prague which says that when the Motherland is in danger or in its darkest times and close to ruin, the equestrian statue of King Wenceslaus in Wenceslaus Square will come to life, raise the army sleeping in Blaník, and upon crossing the Charles Bridge his horse will stumble and trip over a stone, revealing the legendary sword of Bruncvík. With this sword, King Wenceslaus will slay all the enemies of the Czechs, bringing peace and prosperity to the land.
The statue of Wenceslas in Wenceslas Square, Prague 14. Goose
There's a tendency to think of the turkey as having been the traditional Christmas dinner for ages. But only a couple of centuries ago, turkeys would have been seen in Europe as pricey fad food -- a waste of time when there were better, cheaper and more traditional alternatives available: like goose.
The Christmas goose, and much else about the modern festival, owe a great deal to Dickens, who helped to rescue the season from an austere and meditative puritanism that had strangled it for centuries. I find it impossible to read A Christmas Carol without sobbing, and the goose-led Cratchit dinner evokes a warm and sentimental pathos that can stir even the flintiest heart. For those Dickens-lovers amongst you (Carole!!):
“[Grace] was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long-expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried, Hurrah!”
It's a scene of domestic contentment and family harmony probably rarer than we would wish at this time of year, but I think it remains an ideal worth aspiring to.
The goose has been perfectly created to make for the ideal Christmas feast. Geese are ready to be eaten twice a year. Once when they are young or "green" in the early summer and again when they are at their fattest and ripest toward the end of the year after having feasted on fallen corn. It also has the softest fat in its category of animal. The fat turns to liquid at 111 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to duck fat, which liquefies at 126 degrees) making it easier to cook and its fat easier to consume. They were thus used as the centerpiece at Michaelmas, a feast day celebrated during the Middle Ages, which fell on the winter solstice and honored the end of the harvest and the change in season. Earlier than that roast goose was an offering to Odin and Thor in thanks for the harvest. It was also ritually eaten in ancient Greek culture in order to insure the crops in the months to come. It was only natural for goose to become the roast of choice for the Christmas, which eventually took the place of other winter solstice festivities. For the American settlers, turkey took goose's place because that's what happened to be living on their new home soil and it too followed the same pattern of maturation.
The association of geese with the feasts of deep winter and the Solstice's death-and-rebirth theme may go back as far as ancient Egypt, where the goose was the symbol of the creator-god Amen -- the universe itself was sometimes said to have been hatched from a "cosmic egg" produced by this deity.
But leaving aside any possible religious connotations, geese were the perfect fowl for small farmers down through the centuries to raise (and later, big farmers too). They were smart, economical to keep -- since they live by grazing and don't need expensive grain -- and best of all, geese are tough, able to withstand disease and bad weather. By contrast, the turkey, which Spanish and West African traders started bringing to Europe from Mexico in the 1600's, needed a lot of coddling in Europe because it had little resistance to the avian disease histamonosis or "black head", a protozoan-borne liver disease of barnyard fowl. So disease-prone and labour-intensive a bird was expensive to raise; since that extra cost was naturally passed along to the customer, turkeys were slow to spread through western Europe.
Meanwhile as populations grew, and demand for geese along with them, prices dropped and geese became cheaper and easier than ever for even city people to enjoy at Christmas. For the last few centuries, as December approached, hundreds of thousands of geese -- sometimes wearing foot protection to help them cope with the hard roads -- would be herded from upcountry farms to cities like London in gigantic flocks, then dispersed to local keepers and breeders for their final fattening. People in city suburbs even raised geese in their back yards: the loss of a city-bred goose like this is what gets Sherlock Holmes involved in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." It would be nearly another half-century before the price of turkeys would drop low enough for them to start competing with geese. Until then they were seen as a pricey fad food only suitable for gourmands and rich people. This is why, in A Christmas Carol, only when the wealthy Scrooge pays for dinner is there any chance the Cratchit family will have a turkey for Christmas. Their own original choice is the traditional and affordable goose.*
These days the popularity of goose is on the rise again as people start to get tired of the tasteless meat of turkeys that have been bred for sheer size, or are simply looking for something that hasn't been intensively reared and is "greener". Geese are perfect in this regard, since there's no such thing as an intensively-reared goose. They're free range by definition, spending the majority of their lives grazing on grass in the open fields. The so-called "green goose", which comes into season around the Christian feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, or Michaelmas (September 29), is reared exclusively on grass and greenery, and is fairly lean. The later "harvest" goose, also called the Martinmas goose for its finishing time around Saint Martin's feast (November 11th), spends its remaining time being fattened on grain, usually wheat or barley, and it's fatter and meatier as a result. This is the classic Christmas goose.
In past years North Americans have sometimes been scared off the concept of making roast goose for Christmas because of rumours that it's a greasy bird, or that it won't be as good for holiday eating because it doesn't have as much meat on it as a turkey. It's true that the meat-to-carcass ratio on a goose is lower than it is on a turkey. But goose meat is much richer than turkey meat, and also much more flavourful: not a gamey flavour, but a substantial one. Once you've tasted a well-roasted goose, the contrast between its rich dark flavour and the bland flavour of turkey will surprise you. Also, the extra fat in the goose's skin makes it difficult to dry out a goose while roasting it. The fat you pour off at intervals during the roasting process can be stored in the fridge or freezer for months, and makes the best roast potatoes on Earth. Additionally, pound for pound, goose is economical compared to turkey. Even a small goose of eight pounds can satisfy four people.
Sales of goose for Christmas in Britain and Ireland have been experiencing an upswing: in some places sales are up 100% or more. But elsewhere in Europe the strong holiday goose tradition has never waned despite the presence of the turkey. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria in particular, restaurants in every major city will offer succulent, crisp-skinned roast goose to their patrons at Michaelmas, Martinmas, and around Christmas time. The normal side dishes in the German-speaking countries are potato dumplings and red cabbage, and the goose's stuffing normally contains potato as well. In England and Ireland, the stuffings often feature tart fruits like quince, apple or cranberry, as well as savoury sausage meats and bacon.
Here are some fun facts about the majestic goose to chat about while you dine on its deliciously dark, rich meat:
-Sixteenth century scholar, Jules Cesar Scaliger, is quoted as saying that "geese lower their heads in order to pass under a bridge, no matter how high its arches are."
-Alexandre Dumas, the historical novelist and gastronomic storyteller, wrote that "they have so much foresight that when they pass over Mount Taurus, which abounds in eagles, each goose will take a stone in its beak. Knowing what chatterboxes they are, they ensure, by
thus constraining themselves, that they will not emit the sounds which would cause their enemies to discover them."
-According to Dumas, a French chemist "saw a goose turning a spit on which a turkey was roasting. She was holding the end of the spit in her beak; and by sticking out and pulling back her neck, produced the same effect as the use of an arm. All she needed
was to be given a drink from time to time."