Animal abuse and violence have no place in the Christmas season. Modern celebrants of Christmas, therefore, look to retain the values associated with this culturally rich holiday while refusing to grace, legitimize, or tolerate violent practices.
The Christmas hymn “Good King Wenceslas” was written in 1853 by John Mason Neale. This song has been a standard part of the Christmas celebration since that time. People who celebrate Christmas, whether in non-religious vegan holiday spirit or in the non-violent Christian tradition, generally recoil at the third verse as originally written, in which the king calls for “flesh.” It’s unclear whether this line is intended to be a declaration of cannibalism or simple necrovory. Whatever the case, this repulsive passage is clearly out of character with the rest of the story, in which the King is portrayed as kind, strong, courageous, and generous.
Thus, in order to bring this carol back into working order, a non-violent adaptation is provided below, in which “flesh” is replaced with “bread.” This replacement is advantageous, because it (i) retains the single syllable and (ii) the essential vowel sound of the original lyric while (iii) eliminating the violent and rather disgusting cannibalism/necrovory and (iv) evoking more appropriate imagery: bread being the “staff of life” is much more powerful in and suitable for this context than is imagery of death and a rotting corpse.
Please feel free to use these lyrics in your Christmas caroling henceforth!
Good King Wenceslas
Original lyrics: John Mason Neale; Adaptation: S. E. Harrison.
1. 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,
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 St. Agnes’ fountain.’
3. ‘Bring me bread 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;
through the rude wind’s wild lament,
and the bitter weather.
4. ‘Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger;
fails my heart, I know not how;
I can go no longer.’
‘Mark my footsteps, my good page;
tread thou in them boldly:
thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze your 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, Christians all, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing.