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December 26, 2011: Good Masters All

December 26, 2011

I will be getting back to the Asian recipes real soon. I’m not quite Christmased out, just yet. By the way, this it the third Christmas I’ve had to spend away from my family (and even friends, this year) and as such, the blog has been a great comfort, so thank you, kind reader.

Today is the day of my patron saint, Stephen. It is also called “Boxing Day” in England, as it was the custom there to give servants a “Christmas Box’ on this day. This has always sounded rather elitist to me, as in “Jeeves, you did a smashing job with the roast goose yesterday, slaving all day making sure each and every one of our needs were met…here, take this box.” I’m hoping that there was always something pretty amazing in that box, like a month-long getaway to the Bahamas or at least a really, really good tip.

Today was also called “The Day of the Wren” yet another odd (and old) English custom was to hunt a wren down this day, and kill it. The first kid to do so, got a prize. Boy. Rewarding children’s cruelty to animals.The “reason” or rather, I should say, the connection is that St. Stephen, captured by soldiers in Scandinavia, was about to make his escape, but a wren made some noise and woke the soldiers up and they killed Stephen. Mmmmm…I guess you have to be British for that tradition to make sense.

Yet another Christmas connection is that this is the day, that in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslaus” he “looked out” and is a good day to talk about a rather obscure Christmas theme that I see coming up in Christmas literature and songs, that of “Good Masters.” Now, I’m not talking about the golf tournament, I’m talking about people who have authority and treat workers well.

One of the most popular Christmas stories that concern “Good Masters” is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In that story, the ghosts all try to convince Scrooge that he could be much better to the Cratchit family, the father of which, is Scrooge’s clerk. The saddest part of this story is that Scrooge had an ideal Master in his youth, the character of Fezziwig, whose example should have set Scrooge on his own path of being a Good Master, but Scrooge, initially, rejects this fine example. We only see Fezziwig just as he finishes his workday, but one gets the impression that he works as hard as he plays…and he plays hard. Wrapping up work as fast as they can on Christmas Eve, Fezziwig and Scrooge set up for music, dances, food and games for the company’s family and sundry visitors. Fezziwig is generous, playful, loving, funny and just full of life! Scrooge himself defends his former boss, for when the Ghost of Christmas Past calls Fezziwig’s efforts “a small matter” for spending a few pounds on the party, Scrooge retorts:

“It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to make us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words an looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives is as great as it cost a fortune.”

Scrooge is already on his way to being a Good Master. He just needed the example put before him once again. By the end of the story, Scrooge is finally proclaimed “…as good a friend, as a good a master, and as good as a man, as the good old city knew…”

Good King Wenceslaus (and if you’ve never heard the carol before, you may find the lyrics here) was a real person and from all accounts was good…he just wasn’t a king (at least not when he was alive.) Wenceslaus was Duke of Bohemia from 921 until his murder in 935. Because he was devout and pious Catholic, a decent ruler, and an all-around stand up guy, the church increased his status to king right about the same time they made him a saint. Oh…and the person that murdered him…was his own brother: Boleslav, “the Cruel.” Boleslav may have gotten to be the next Duke, but Wenceslaus is elevated to not only king, but saint; is called “Good” and has people sing a song of praise about him, hundreds of years later. Boleslav is called “Cruel” and has spiraled from obscurity to the level of hell fratricides go to. He and Cain can commiserate.

In the carol, Wenceslaus notices a poor subject and pities his hard plight in terrible weather and seeks to comfort him with a warm meal and drink. Wenceslaus is adamant in helping the man, despite the weather. In his efforts, he forgets his young page who is suffering from the cold. Wenceslaus then shields his page with his own body to protect him. Noticing, pity, seeking to comfort, shielding, protecting…these are the qualities of a Good Master!

I’ve had my share of good and bad masters over the years. The good ones inspire me. The bad ones…well…I can only shake my head. I tease my current boss that he is like Fezziwig, if Fezziwig were a wise-ass! That’s just my way of telling him that I think he is good man and interesting as well!

So, in review: Don’t harm little birds (despite tradition.) For pity’s sake, don’t harm your brother!!!! Do all you can to be a Good Master. You will set an example that just may reverberate further than you know.

Remember what the carol says:  “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

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