Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 4 (Childermas)

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds ...”

Actually, they would have been referred to as "colly birds," meaning a form of blackbird. This is one of a number of lines that had become corrupted over the centuries. But enough about the song. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant males in Bethlehem under the age of two years, that King Herod had put to death, in the hopes of doing away with the newborn King, which he saw as a threat to his power (Matthew 2:16-18).

In this 1611 painting by Guido Reni, we see the depiction of that which fulfilled the prophecy: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15) Some historians have debated whether the tale actually occurred, as the ancient historian Josephus fails to mention it, but biblical scholars tend to acknowledge its authenticity, and while an ancient tradition has placed the death toll at fourteen thousand (most likely an allusion to the many atrocities committed by Herod, including the killing of his own son), given that the "little town of Bethlehem" had a population of only about one thousand at the time, the estimated number of victims has been more realistically placed at around twenty.

In Spanish-speaking countries (including, uh, Spain), as well as former colonies such as the Philippines, this is traditionally a day given to playing practical jokes, much like April Fools' Day elsewhere. The pranks are known as "inocentadas" and either the pranksters or their victims are referred to as "inocentes."

I suppose it depends on which ones you ask.

(NOTE: Due to the feast occurring this year on a Sunday, it is supplanted in both forms of the Roman rite; in the traditional liturgy by the "Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity" and remembered with a "dual commemoration, and in the reformed liturgy as the "Solemnity of the Holy Family," which occurs in the traditional form two weeks later. Don't ask me why.)

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It is also a day of remembrance for yours truly, as an entry scheduled for later today will attest. Stay tuned ...
 

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