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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Innocents Day

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(Festum Innocentium, ἡμἐρα, τῶνἁγίων ιδ῎ χιλιαδων νηπίων ), set apart by the Greek, Roman, and English churches to commemorate the slaughter of the children by Herod shortly after our Savior's birth, is celebrated in the Western Church on Dec. 28, and in the Eastern Church Dec. 29. Ancient ecclesiastical writers speak of these children as Christian martyrs. Cyprian says, "The nativity of Christ began" (a martyriis infantium) "with the martyrdom of those infants that from two years old and under were slain for his name" (Epist. 56, ad Thibar. p. 123). Augustine says, "These infants died for Christ, not knowing it; their parents bewailed them as dying martyrs; they could not yet speak, but, nevertheless, they confessed Christ: Christ granted them the honor to die for his name" (De Symbol. 3:4, p. 303; De Lib. Arbit. 3:23). So Prudentius (Cath. Hymn. de Epiph.),

"Salvete, flores martyium,

Quos Incis ipso in limine Christi ilusecutor sustulit,

Ceu turbo nascentes rosas!

Vos prima Christi victimla,

Grex immolatorum tener,

Aram sub ipsam simplices Palma et corona luditis."

"Hail, ye flower of martyrs, whom the enemy of Christ cut off in your very entrance upon the light, as the tempest does roses in the bud! First victims for Christ, tender flock of sacrifices, ye play innocently with your crowns and garlands before the very altar." It was a popular superstition in the old Church that Innocents' Day (or Childermass, as it was also called) is very unlucky to begin any work upon; and what day so ever that falls on, whether on a Monday, Tuesday, or any other, nothing must be begun on that day throughout the year. Though Childermass Day was reckoned unfortunate, nevertheless revels were held on it. The Society of Lincoln's Inn used to choose an officer at that season called the King of the Cockneys, who presided on the day of his appointment. But in the modern Church this feast is observed as a special holiday by the young, and many curious customs connected with it prevail in Catholic countries. Thus, in private families, the children are on this day privileged to wear the clothes of the elders, and in some sort to exercise authority over the household in their stead. So, also, in communities of nuns, the youngest sister becomes for this day superioress of the house, and exercises a sort of sportive authority even over the real superior. In Church, the priest celebrating mass on this day wears a blue gown. See Bingham, Orig. Eccles. bk. 20:cap. 7:§ 12; Augusti, Denkwü rdigkeiten a.'der christl. Archaö l. (Lips. 1817), 1, 304 sq.

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Innocents Day'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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