Know that song “Good King Wenceslas”? It’s become one of my favourite Christmas songs in recent years. I hadn’t really known it until I’d become an adult, and it wasn’t until this year that I heard the story behind the song. It’s a great story that is actually referenced in this week’s movie, The Polar Express.
The King in question is a Czech king who really was a very good man. In this particular story he is wanting to give alms to the poor during the observance of the Feast of Stephen (Which was the day after Christmas, the date we in the west celebrate Boxing Day). But the weather outside was frightful. It was getting dark, windy, and dangerous and his young servant was having a hard time—he didn’t think they should be on this trek considering the inclement weather. But Wenceslas simply came up with the solution. “Follow in my footsteps.” If the page would simply step in each footprint that the good king made with his own boots in the snow he would make it just fine.
In The Polar Express there is reference to this story. The hero boy in this movie climbs to the top of the train and is then led to the engine at the front by a new friend he met up there: not a good king, but a good hobo. He starts by following his clearly visible footprints in the snow (this movie’s animation is amazing), then takes an even bolder step climbing on the man’s back as he skis the length of the train. And it gets him where he needs to go. In both stories it could easily be assumed that the follower doesn’t fully understand where he is going. Maybe not even completely get the ‘why’ of it.
Usually when I hear stories of following in footsteps I think of it from the perspective of a father. I want to identify with the king/hobo as one who metaphorically leads by example. But as important a principle as this is, it seems to me that the bum (and maybe the king?) are making a point about the follower rather than the leader. Can there be a more vivid picture of putting trust in someone to get you where you need to go? Both a snowstorm and a night time catwalk on a speeding locomotive would require some good faith in another.
And strange as it may sound, following a baby can be a little unnerving too. Even if he doesn’t offer a piggy-back ski ride on a moving train.
Congratulations The Polar Express. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Catherine O’Hara as Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Best Actor: It’s a tie! Jim Carrey in A Christmas Carol and Tom Hanks in The Polar Express.
Best Quote: Another tie! “Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” — The Conductor in The Polar Express (Thank you James) and “Just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it!” — Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Those go together quite well, don’t you think?
Yesterday I was driving around Moncton and started reminiscing about hearing radio favourites each December of my childhood. Then, lo and behold, Bob and Doug’s 12 Days of Christmas came on. So here’s a list of the top 10 radio Christmas tunes that bring me back to my younger years the most:
10. “Feliz Navidad” — Jose Feliciano
9. “Blue Christmas” — Elvis Presley
8. “Silver Bells” — Anne Murray
7. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” — Brenda Lee
6. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — Bing Crosby
5. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” — Band Aid
4. “Wonderful Christmastime” — Paul McCartney
3. “Little Toy Trains” — Roger Miller
2. “12 Days of Christmas” — Bob and Doub MacKenzie
1. “Christmas Don’t Be Late” — Alvin and the Chipmunks (with Dave Seville)