In Ukraine, academics, monks and poets wrote koliady that helped to teach people about the Nativity.
Carols of other countries have an educational role too. For instance, the English carol Good King Wenceslas has catechetical lessons that are fitting for the Christmas season.
The carol tells of a good king who, on the “Feast of Stephen,” goes with his helper on a cold wintry night to bring food and firewood to a poor peasant.
St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated by Western Christians on Dec. 26. (The origin of the “Boxing Day” holiday.) In the Byzantine rite, St. Stephen is venerated on Dec. 27/Jan. 9.
St. Stephen’s name comes from the Greek “Stephanos”, meaning “crown.” He is called the Protomartyr as he was the first martyr of the New Testament. An eloquent speaker, he was tried for blasphemy, tortured and stoned to death in 34-35 AD. While on trial, he saw both God the Father and the Son.
The popular English carol is about another saint, Saint Wenceslaus I (907-935). One of his biographers, in 1119, wrote: “Every night from his noble bed, with bare feet…he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty.”
Like St. Nicholas about whom we sing the much-loved Ukrainian carol, “O Khto, khto Mykolaja liubyt,”, St. Wenceslaus offers us a noble example of Christian love and charity.