When I was about eleven years old, my parents bought a lot in the mountains with the intent of building a cabin there some day. Shortly after buying it, Dad wanted to show the site to a friend; the only problem was that it was winter and the area lay under a four or five foot blanket of snow.
I remember the difficulty of trying to forge a path from the gravel road to the cabin site. It was impossible for me to even attempt to make progress through those drifts. Dad and the other adult took turns leading the way, breaking a trail, while my older brother and I followed in their footsteps. We never did make it all the way to the lot but we at least got close enough to see the site from a distance. It was beautiful and well worth the effort.
This past Christmas the 360-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with the Orchestra and Bells at Temple Square, performed its annual Christmas concerts in the 21,000 seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City. The guest artists were British actress Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) and operatic baritone Nathan Gunn. The theme of the concerts that filled the huge auditorium to capacity four times was based on the story of “Good King Wenceslas.”
For this year’s program, an elaborate stage set with castle towers, stained-glass windows and flocked greenery hinted at the program’s theme, carried forward by the opening processional featuring dancers clad in medieval costumes performing to the music of “Sing Forth This Day.”
The medieval theme was consistent with the “Good King Wenceslas” story. Composed in the 19th century, the carol recounts a legend based on Wenceslas, who grew up in England and Bohemia and was the Duke of Bohemia from 907-935 A.D. The story goes that on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, Dec. 26) Wenceslas looked out from his castle and saw a poor peasant foraging for firewood. Wenceslas drew his page’s attention to the man and directed that they go together to bring the man the makings for a Christmas feast.
During the excursion, the page finds the winter weather unbearable. The monarch invites the page to walk in his footprints that he, Wenceslas, has made in the snow. The page finds warmth and comfort emanating from his master’s footprints.
All of the choir members, the orchestra musicians and the dancers performing in the program were volunteers. “Ms. Seymour, who with her husband James, has launched the Open Hearts Foundation to help children in need, said at a news conference, “I felt this was very much in line with my expression of opening our hearts, and I think the Good King Wenceslas story is the epitome of that. Here’s a man who sees Christmas as not being complete until a young man understands that the gift of Christmas is to give back, and not to receive.”
She said, “It’s wonderful for me to perform [the narration] to this beautiful music... and to also have my favorite medium, which is dance, happening all around me. It’s all I can do to not be turning around and staring at them. They are amazing, these dancers.”
Mr. Gunn said, “I agree with Jane. It’s spectacularly well done, with everything going on. But the idea of this king putting himself in front when the page can’t go on any longer, and he says, ‘Stand behind me and walk in my footsteps,’ the king is giving strength and warmth because he’s giving and leading. It’s the whole Christ story, and it’s beautifully done.”
I believe that each of us is blazing a trail for those who come behind us. Whether or not we realize it, there are those who look up to us for leadership and to help them to determine what they will make of their lives. I think we will be held accountable for the trail we blaze for those who follow in our footsteps. Will they find strength, warmth and comfort in the trail we leave or will they find a forbidden path that leads to heartache and sorrow?
I’m so grateful for having a father in whose footsteps I can walk with confidence.