28 December – Childermas


Massacre of the Innocents vy Cornelis van Haarlem 1591
Massacre of the Innocents vy Cornelis van Haarlem 1591
Today is Childermas (Children’s Mass) or Holy Innocents’ Day and it was part of the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrated in the Tudor period.

This feast day commemorates the massacre of the baby boys which King Herod ordered in Bethlehem, in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus Christ. The innocent babies were seen by the Catholic Church as the very first martyrs.

The 16th century Christmas carol, The Coventry Carol, which was sung on 28th December, referred to the massacre:

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Of course, the story of the massacre is told in the Gospel of Matthew. Herod asked the “Wise Men” to go and search for the Christ child and then to return to him: “bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” However, the Wise Men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod:

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,

In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” (Matthew 2: 16-18, Standard King James Version)

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2 thoughts on “28 December – Childermas”
  1. Hello and happy holidays, today is a holy day that is overlooked because it comes on the tail end of Christmas and can be lost. I did a study course on Herod a few years ago for leisure and was a little annoyed that the modern thinking about the killing of these poor little boys is that it did not happen or is a metaphor. Because it is in the Gospel and not Herods biography that has a full list of the many horrible things done by Herod the incident is not taken as fact. However many other scholars believe it has basis in fact and Josephus mentions it. Nicholas of Damascus also pointed out that during his last months Herod ordered many massacres. He was a nasty piece of work who was paranoid his whole life. We have accepted that he killed three sons, his mother in law, father in law, two brothers, friends, the high priest who was his young brother in law, several hundred other people and gave the order to execute three thousand Jewish leaders on his death, an order revoked by his sister, but historians think the massacre of innocent children beyond him. I am convinced otherwise.

    Herod was a great builder, he built the largest and most beautiful of the great Temples of Jerusalem, the one from the time of Jesus, but he was hated both as a foreigner and his cruelty. His own tomb we now know to have been defaced. The story of the murder of these innocent children is one of the oldest and strongest in human history, it should not be forgotten or dismissed. Another interpretation was that it recalled another massacre of innocent children, the killing of the first born in Egypt by Pharaoh, but whether this was the case, children were killed because a man of power, greed and fear could not open his heart and was afraid of a baby who would redeem his people and the world. Moses world live to lead the children of Israel to freedom, Jesus would be saved from the massacre to lead us home to salvation. It is appropriate for the babies to be seen as the first Christian martyrs, for their blood is the seed from which the church grew.

  2. I’m constantly amused and bemused by the primarily American Protestant Christians who decry saying “Happy Holidays” as being non-Christian who do not know nor want to know nor understand the whole Octave of Holy or Feast Days that are tradional in the Christmas season..

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