I once sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in a high school choir. We all dressed in black and walked down the aisles with battery-operated candles, singing eerie, anticipatory harmonies to our parents and loved ones.
I loved the song (and still do), but I had no idea what I was singing about.
I think that is often the case with Christmas carols: so many of them retain the beautiful language of centuries passed, filled with words that have dropped out of our vocabulary and doctrine. Though we know the words by heart, it is hard to take them to heart without a dictionary. The carols become so familiar as we sing that we forget to listen to them.
Good King Wenceslas takes a familiar carol and slows it down: though I like to sing the words as I read this book to my girls, the illustrations draw out the story behind the song and surprised both my husband and me. Oh! we thought. That’s what the song is about!
It’s a beautiful story about a servant king, and Tim Ladwig’s illustrations bring rich and lively details to a song whose story sweeps over the heads of many children (the line “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen” always perplexed me when I was small). I found this one at a used bookstore mere days after reading about it on Aslan’s Library and knew I had found a book worth returning to Advent after Advent.
Good King Wenceslas
John M. Neale, Tim Ladwig (2005)