“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 /Though the frost was cruel / When a poor man came in sight / Gathering winter fuel.…”
Wenceslas existed. He was actually the duke of Bohemia (he got a posthumous promotion by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I), and he was renowned for his piety and generosity to the poor. In fact, he was made a saint and is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic.
Sadly, he died in September 935 when a group of nobles led by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel, murdered him in Prague. He fled from his assassins to a church for sanctuary — according to legend, he was holding the church door handle when he was struck down.
That handle is preserved at the entrance to the St. Wenceslas Chapel in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral.
The carol concludes, fittingly for a generous saint:
“Therefore, Christian men, be sure / Wealth or rank possessing / Ye who now will bless the poor / Shall yourselves find blessing.”