The Good Duke’s Christmas

It was day after Christmas the old man awoke.

He straightened his red night cap which rested on his snow white hair.

He swing his legs out of bed and dangled them above the cold stone floor.

He remembered the days when he had jumped out of bed dressed and then set out barefoot to walk round his Dukedom visiting all his churches and handing out alms to the poor and needy.

Now he just felt tired and cold as he looked down at his feet. Not the tiredness of exhaustion but of boredom with nothing to look forward to on a cold wintry day.

Christmas day had been a sad day. None of his daughters had been able to come and stay with him and to make matters worse the bridge that crossed the river prevented anyone from the town coming to visit or sing carols to him.

Of course he was not totally alone. His cook had cooked him a magnificent diner. There was the biggest Goose in the dukedom. There was always a competition to find who could supply the biggest goose. There was duck and pork and at least 10 kinds of vegetables with 4 different kinds of stuffing, not to mention the different sauces.

Paul the cooks son had been weighed down by the heavy platters as he had carried them in to place on the great table that would have seated 30 people easily.

The old man had eaten alone, one small slice from the goose and just one or two vegetables.

Then there had been Figgie pudding with brandy sauce as well as other desserts. He could not face any of them.

Later he had opened the gifts sent by his daughters. His eldest daughter who now lived in lapland and she had sent him deer skin boots lined with fur. This for a man who often walked barefoot.

His next daughter who lived in Norway had sent him ski poles. Does she think I am old and cannot walk without sticks he thought.

His youngest daughter who lived in Finland, had sent knitted mittens, scarf and a jumper that was too large and brightly coloured and patterned. Does she think I am fat he thought.

He got up and walked to the window and drew back the curtains as he looked out he could see Paul pulling a sledge up to the castle. He could see across the river to the town with smoke coming from every chimney and he thought of all the families gathered round the nice warm fires.

And the old man remembered the times he had gone sledging with his daughters and then came into sit round the fire. Thats what he missed it was the children and their laughter.

In the dining room his breakfast was laid out he just picked at the food.

Later he walked to the dining room window and looked out on the cold winters scene, the snow on top of the bird bath must have been two foot high. No visitors today he thought.

Then he noticed a distant shape, moving in the deep snow. His cataracts blurred his vision so he called Paul and asked him what was moving.

“Its one of the old men from the alms houses collecting wood sir.”

Now how often do we look on a view and see what is there and never see what is missing. Now as he looked the old Duke could see the alms houses and the orphanage and no smoke was coming from any of the chimneys.

“But if the old man was collecting wood would it be wet and not burn well,” he said aloud.

“Sir, with the bridge broken no one would have been able to deliver wood to the houses, maybe they have no other wood.”

The old Duke thought for a moment. “Paul go get your sledge and fill it with logs from our store and send your mother to me.”

It did not take long to load the sledge not only with logs but all the food that had not been eaten on Christmas Day. What they could not get on the sledge they put in two rucksacks.

The Duke put on his new boots. His large knitted jumper, his scarf, his mittens and wrapped his cloak round him and with a ski pole in each hand he set out with Paul pulling the sledge.

It had begun to snow again and the going was hard until Paul could hardly pull the sledge any longer.

“Follow me” the old Duke said and soon they reached the tracks left by the old man who had been collecting which made the going easier. Then two men came, one the old man and the other from the orphanage and in no time they had reached the Orphanage.

The children were cold and huddled together but the fire was soon lit and a great pot put on top of it. The vegetables and cut up meat were put in the pot and in no time the smell of a delicious soup filled the air.

Everyone from the orphanage and the alms house said it was the best soup ever. And they all ended the day singing and dancing.

And the old duke said “this is what I will do every Christmas, I will not be alone I will invite everyone to join me.”

Wenceslas was a Bohemian Duke in Czech in the 10th century

One biographer wrote in 12 century wrote,

On 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.

Roman Emperor Otto 1 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”