A Latin American Tradition Celebrated on December 28
“The commemoration of the massacre of these “Holy Innocents”, traditionally regarded as the first Christian martyrs, if unknowingly so, first appears as a feast of the Western church in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. The earliest commemorations were connected with the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January: Prudentius mentions the Innocents in his hymn on the Epiphany. Leo in his homilies on the Epiphany speaks of the Innocents. Fulgentius of Ruspe (6th century) gives a homily De Epiphania, deque Innocentum nece et muneribus magorum (“On Epiphany, and on the murder of the Innocents and the gifts of the Magi”).”
“According to the Bible, when Joseph and Mary gave birth to Jesus, it was prophesized that the child would grow up to become the King of the Jews. Three men known as the “three wise men” (or the three Magi) came to the town of Bethlehem to visit Jesus on the night of his birth, bearing symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The three wise men found their way to the kingdom of Judea by following the so-called “Star of Bethlehem,” and upon their arrival asked the king, Herod the Great, if he knew how they could find “the king of the Jews.”
By this point in his life, King Herod was not in the best of shape. Born in Palestine to a family that was close to Julius Caesar and himself a personal friend of Mark Anthony, Herod grew up in the midst political intrigue and turmoil, and evidently the pressure got to him. With age Herod became increasingly mentally unstable, paranoid, and irrationally violent, even going so far as to kill one of his ten wives and her two sons, as well as her brother, grandfather, and mother.
Upon hearing that the Magi were looking for “the king of the Jews,” Herod immediately grew fearful that this infant would steal his throne. He sweetly asked the three wise men to bring the baby back to his palace, so that he could worship the infant just like them, secretly planning to kill the child upon first sight.
The Magi had a dream revealing Herod’s plan, however, and left Bethlehem in secret so that the irate king would be unable to trace their steps back to the infant.
Mad with rage and fear, Herod instructed that all boys under the age of two in the town of Bethlehem and the immediate vicinity be slaughtered. Luckily for Mary and Joseph, Christian belief holds that an angel came to save them and guided them to safety in Egypt. Herod eventually took his own life soon after.
Massacre Of The Innocents Feast Today
“Today, the date of Holy Innocents’ Day, also called The Innocents’ Day or Childermas or Children’s Mass, varies. It is December 27th for West Syrians (Syriac Orthodox Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Maronite Church) and January 10th for East Syrians (Chaldeans and Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), while December 28th is the date in the Church of England, the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church (in which, except on Sunday, violet vestments were worn before 1961, instead of red, the normal liturgical colour for celebrating martyrs). In these latter Western Christian denominations, Childermas is the fourth day of Christmastide. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast on 29 December.
From the time of Charlemagne, Sicarius of Bethlehem was venerated at Brantôme, Dordogne as one of the purported victims of the Massacre.”