Feast of the Holy Innocents

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents Day is observed every year on December 28th. Also known as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, on this day the first martyrs who were children killed by King Herod while finding baby Jesus are honored by Catholic Church.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is sometimes referred to as Childermas, or Massacre of the Innocents’ Day. It is celebrated in the Christian churches in the West on December 28th and in the Eastern churches on December 29th.

He did this to ensure that the infant Messiah, sought by the Magi, would be unable to displace him on his throne. This is why Saint Joseph was told in a dream to take the Child and the Blessed Virgin and flee to Egypt to escape the persecution of King Herod.


Its origin dates back more than 2,000 years. According to the legend, King Herod ordered to kill all children under the age of two who were born in Bethlehem.

He was afraid of the child because he believed the king who had been born would usurp his power. So, after the wise men failed to bring him the child’s location, he ordered every male child under the age of two in his domain to be killed.

Holy Innocents, the children mentioned in St. Matthew, ii, 16-18: “Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.

Herod sent the Magi to search for the infant, and then to let him know where the child was at. Herod wanted to kill the infant Jesus because Herod was jealous, but he had told the Magi he wanted to pay the infant homage.

After the Magi had followed the star and found Jesus, an angel warned them to take a different route home to avoid King Herod. An angel also came to Joseph in a dream and warned Joseph of the danger to the infant Jesus. So Joseph took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt, where they remained until the death of Herod.

King Herod became so angry when he found out the Magi had tricked him, that he ordered the death of all the infant boys under the age of two years in and around Bethlehem. These male children murdered by Herod’s decree are called the Holy Innocents.

There is a Christmas carol called “The Coventry Carol.” This carol originates from the medieval mystery plays in Coventry, England, one of which recounts the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. In this carol, a mother is lamenting her young male child who has been sentenced to death by King Herod’s decree.


Though the day of mourning remains among Catholics, during the middle ages, the commemoration was combined with a pagan rite known as the “Feast of Fools,” celebrated in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. These parties were so boisterous that the Catholic Church, in an attempt to appease the eccentricities of its participants, decided to celebrate the Holy Innocents Day, thus turning it into a pagan-religious tradition.

Other traditions, though, are more focused on celebrating the blessing of children. So, some church services feature children in the choirs of mass – hence the name “Childermas” or Children’s Mass. Some parents will also bless their children by making the sign of the cross on their child’s forehead and saying: “May God bless you, and may He be the Guardian of your heart and mind — the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The fusion of history, religion, and paganism led to a series of celebrations in many religions of the world which feature costumes, folk music, and communities gathering to celebrate.

Suggested Read: St Andrew’s Day

Avatar for Simmi Kamboj

Simmi Kamboj

Simmi Kamboj is the Founder and Administrator of Ritiriwaz, your one-stop guide to Indian Culture and Tradition. She had a passion for writing about India's lifestyle, culture, tradition, travel, and is trying to cover all Indian Cultural aspects of Daily Life.