Happy Childermas!

"Massacre of the Holy Innocents" by Peter Paul Rubens approx. 1611

This morning, my google calendar alerted me twice that today, December 28, is "Childermas." (in the Western Church, December 29th in the Eastern Church).  I had no idea what that meant, so some research (aka, time-with-google) revealed that Childermas, or the "Feast of the Holy Innocents," is the fourth day of Christmas, commemorating the baby boys killed by Herod in his search for Jesus.

Matthew 2:16-18,
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
These baby boys are considered the first martyrs, in this feast day dating back to the 5th century.  Mass is celebrated for them (with suppressed Alleluias and Glorias) and purple worn for mourning.  Traditionally, the Coventry Carol, a lullaby of grieving for the slain children, is sung.

While a sad commemoration, like most holidays (holy-days, feast days) that are named for martyrs, it has gradually become a joyous day, in this case a day celebrating childhood.

Masses feature children's choirs, and customs at home include games and children's activities, and a parents' blessing of the children, similar to a sabbath blessing, which may simply be placing hands on the children's heads and saying something like, "May God bless you and be the guardian of your heart and mind, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Here's where it gets fun.
Traditionally, the youngest child gets to be in charge of the household, choosing activities, foods, etc. - (though this can be shared among all the children).  In Hispanic countries like Spain and Mexico, it is celebrated like April Fool's Day by children, where children play tricks on their parents like the Magi did on King Herod, and say, "Innocente!" instead of "April Fool's!"

A pudding or ice cream with raspberry sauce, or something else red, is eaten, to remember the blood of the innocents.
Raspberry Sauce

10 oz pkg. frozen raspberries
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 c. red currant jelly

Thaw and crush raspberries. Combine with cornstarch. Add red currant jelly and bring to boil. Cook and stir until mixture is clear and thickens slightly. Strain and chill. Makes 1 1/3 cups. Serve over rice pudding, ice cream, blanc mange, white chocolate mousse, etc. (If you don't have red currant jelly, you can omit the cornstarch, too, and just purée the berries with a TBSP or two of sugar without cooking. Just blend well and sieve to remove seeds.).
Other random facts: Historically, it was considered a bad luck day for weddings or beginning any new venture on Childermas.  In what elicited dramatic grimaces and full-body cringing from my kids, we also learned there was in the 14th-16th centuries the custom of "slapping on the hinder parts any young folks who were surprised in bed on the that morning" which probably came from an earlier tradition of being awakened with a whipping so that the memory of the Innocents would "stick more closely" with them.

The Desmond Tutu Center for Leadership suggests celebrating Childermas as a way to remember innocent children throughout the world, particularly those suffering from AIDS, hunger and poverty, to make it day of giving and learning about the needs of children.

All this to say, when I shared a bit of my learning with my children this morning, and they looked at each other and squeed with delight, and immediately embraced a day of their rule in the home. (This may be the holiday they've waited for their whole lives).

So, today we are celebrating Childermas, which may have begun with eggs, sausage and gum drops for breakfast, and proceeded into art-making and the pitching of a tent indoors, statements like, "I declare it is time for the chewing of bubble gum," cuddling on command, ruminating about possible pizza for dinner and potential snow shenanigans, and will continue where e'er these youngsters take us.

Happy Childermas!

"Triumph of the Innocents" by William Holman Hunt, approx. 1884,
depicts the martyred babies accompanying the Holy Family as they flee to Egypt.

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