Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On The Fourth Day Of Chrismas . . . The Feast Of The Holy Innocents

Today is the fourth day of the twelve days of Christmas.

On the fouth day is celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This feast honors those children slaughtered on the order of King Herod, as told in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The Magi had passed through Jerusalem and let it be known they were going to visit the newborn King. Herod, hearing of this, called his advisors together, one of whom informed Herod of a prophecy that a child would be born in Bethlehem who would become “a ruler who is to shepherd the people of Israel.” When later the Magi later refused to tell Herod where they had found Jesus, Herod ordered the slaughter of all children under two years of age living in Bethlehem. It is estimated that, in the small town of Bethlehem, that this would have meant slaughtering about 25 children. And it is their martyrdom that the Feast of the Holy Innocents honors.

The Coventry Carol, performed below by Alison Moyet, tells the story.

This 15th century carol has an interesting back story. In Medieval Europe, few people were literate and most copies of the bible where in Latin, so the local clergy used alternative methods to teach the bible. One was through the use of the “poor man's bible” - stained glass windows which contained images from biblical stories, sort of a millennium old precursor to the modern comic books. One of the most famous “poor man's bible” is the 14th century window in Canterbury Cathedral shown here on the right.

A second method of teaching the bible was through Mystery plays that told biblical stories in the vernacular and, often, included song. These plays were performed by the clergy outside of the Church until the 12th century, when the conduct of the plays were turned over to town guilds. It is from one of these plays performed in 15th century Coventry, England that the Coventry Carol comes down to us.

The traditional way to celebrate today is to turn over rule of the house to the youngest child. It is the youngest who decides the day's foods, drinks, music, entertainments, etc. Also traditional is a red desert, especially a pudding or ice cream with a red sauce, such as raspberry.

The 12 Days Of Christmas

The first eight days of Christmastide are known as the Octave

The 1st Day - Celebrating The Birth Of Christ
The 2nd Day - Feast of St. Stephen, The First Martyr of the Church
The 3rd Day - Feast of St. John the Evangelist & The Blessing Of The Wine
The 4th Day - Feast of the Holy Innocents
The 5th Day - Feast of St. Thomas a' Becket
The 6th Day - Feast of the Holy Family
The 7th Day - Feast of St. Sylvester
The 8th Day – Feast of the Circumsision (& The Feast Of Fools - no longer celebrated)
The 9th Day – Feast of the Holy Name (1st Sunday of the New Year, unless that day falls on the 1st, 6th or 7th of January, in which case it falls on the 2nd of January)
10th Day of Christmas - Open
11th Day of Christmas – Open
12th Night

13 January – Baptism of Jesus

14 January - Feast Of The Ass - no longer celebrated

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