Occupation: Retired Anthropologist
Residence: Portland, Oregon
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/13/2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Czech
Informant: “Saint Wenceslaus was a big saint in the Czech Republic, there is this well known carol about him, though I can’t remember exactly how it goes. He was a bit like Saint Nicholas or Santa like we have in the U.S., except that he took care of people as opposed to giving gifts. The legend goes that Good King Wenceslaus was out walking in the snow and he found a poor person and gave him money, and how that what you’re supposed to do at Christmas is give money to help poor people. A bunch of legends built up around him, like the carol talks about how on this dark and stormy night, we was walking with his helper, and he told his helper to walk in his footsteps in the snow behind him, which was supposed to have a Christ-like connotation to it. An supposedly the whole kingdom under his reign was a wonderful golden age because they had this wonderful king who was a saint. A lot of Catholic churches in the Czech republic and also in places in the United States with a lot of Czech people would be called Saint Wenceslaus’s, or just Saint Wen’s. There is actually a big statue of him in the main square in Prague that is supposed to have the original king’s actual helmet on it!”
The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.
Collector Analysis: This is an interesting legend, and provides an interesting counterpoint to the classic “Winter gift giving story”. Whereas most Christmas traditions involve giving gifts you your family and loved ones, the story of Saint Wenceslaus advocates giving to those people you don’t know who are in need, specifically the poor. Saint Wenceslaus is the Catholic patron saint of Bohemia, which is currently a region within the Czech Republic. This particular legend also shows the strong connection there was between the old European royalty and the Christian faith.