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This holiday column was first thought about on a sunny day in April in Denver. Elaine and I were visiting friends who lived in Bayside Hills for many years. A heavy snowstorm hit the city and its environs and dumped 10 inches of snow in the area where Judy and Don Merwin live, not far from downtown.
The next day was bright, sunny and in the 60s. The roads and sidewalks were passable and I went for a walk.
For some reason, the carol about “Good King Wenceslas” came to mind and I began whistling the tune.
Maybe I thought about what happens in that carol because I had just written two columns about hunger in Queens and the whole matter of our poor economy was on my mind. I later found out that in August 1.6 million New Yorkers were receiving food stamps — a more than 30 percent increase in two years, the largest since the early 1970s. In November, we learned 49 million Americans lacked consistent access to adequate food last year.
Signs of the Great Recession were everywhere, even though to Pollyannas like me there were what economists call glimmers of hope.
Wenceslas was a duke of Bohemia sometime in the 10th century — the dates vary — who was famous for his charity. He was assassinated by a brother and his brother’s followers, probably because he was too saintly. He was posthumously made a king of Bohemia by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I and is the patron saint of the Czechs.
The carol in his honor was written by a High Church Anglican priest, John Mason Neale, and published in the mid-19th century. The music is of Swedish/Finnish origin and may date to the 13th century. Neale wrote many hymn lyrics.
In the carol, on St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26, Wenceslas and his page follow a poor peasant who is gathering winter fuel. They bring him food, drink and wood. The snow is deep and heavy, but the page is able to keep up with the duke because as the latter strides toward the peasant’s hut, he leaves warm footprints in the snow.
In the moral of the carol, Neale wrote this:
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.
You need not be a Christian, professing or otherwise, or in any way religious to realize that in this time of recession not only must we do what we can to boost the economy, but we must aid those organizations — religious and otherwise — that seek to help those in need.
Each of you will have — I hope! — nonprofit organizations to which you have given help. Go a step further this holiday season and help them even more.
During this past year, I have written about many such groups and, if you need places to extend your largess, here are some which I have mentioned — all of them, I believe, have Web sites that you can visit for information:
• Trust for Public Land
• St. Francis Breadline of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan
• Holy Apostles soup kitchen in Manhattan
• Queens Interfaith Hunger Network
• Queens Botanical Garden
• Alley Pond Environmental Center
• Queens for Greens Urban Farm of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown
• Trees New York
• Council on the Environment of New York City
• your local community garden
• Queens County Farm Museum
• New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
That long-ago duke of Bohemia left warm footprints in the deep snow as he went to help people in need. All of us can be left with warm feelings as we help these and other organizations that do important work every day in our communities.
I wish all readers a happy — and giving — holiday season.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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