Holy Innocents Day: Origin, Meaning, and Celebrations

Holy Innocents Day commemorates the execution of the innocent, male children in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus as told in Matthew 2:16-18.

Holy Innocents Day? What’s that? If this is your first time hearing all about Holy Innocents Day,  don’t worry – you’re not alone. This particular feast day is not as popular or well-known as some of the others, but it’s still an important one nonetheless. So what is Holy Innocents Day?

In this article, you will learn all there is to know about Holy Innocents Day. This includes its’ history, meaning, and how it is celebrated today. By the end, you will have a much better understanding of this significant Holy Innocents’ Day.

Holy Innocents Day

What Is Holy Innocents Day?

Holy Innocents Day is a Christian feast day that commemorates the massacre of infants by King Herod in Bethlehem. That’s why some call this day, the Massacre of the Innocents. The massacre occurred after Jesus was born when Herod learned from the Magi that a new “king of the Jews” had been born. Herod then ordered all male infants in Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed, in an attempt to kill Jesus.

You can find this story of King Herod in the Bible in Matthew 2:16–18

“Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”

According to the Bible, Joseph, Jesus’s biological father, had a dream in which an angel appeared to him and warned him to take his wife Mary and their newborn son Jesus and flee. The family eventually made their way to Egypt.

This account can be found in Matthew 2:13. When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up!” he said. “Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.

History of the Feast of the Holy Innocents

The exact date of when the feast of the Holy Innocents began to be celebrated is unknown, but it is thought to have originated sometime in the 4th or 5th century. 

The feast of the Holy Innocents was originally only celebrated in Spain and France, but eventually spread to other countries as well. In England, the feast of the Holy Innocents was first mentioned in the 10th century. It was not until much later, in 1848, that Holy Innocents Day became an official celebration in the Catholic Church.

Some of the remains of the infants that Herod had slaughtered can be found in other Catholic churches in addition to St. Paul Outside the Walls.


During the 7 B.C. there were no definite dates.

In 40 A.D, during “Saturnalia”, the Romans celebrated Saturn’s birthday. It was a time for everyone to have fun, and it came before Christmas. And in this celebration, the murder of the innocents was mentioned.

Followed during the 485 A.D., it is written in the “Leonine Sacramentary” that the First Holy Innocents Feast is held.

Then in 500 A.D., the tradition was recorded. The festival was part of the Epiphany back then, so the Bishop of Ruspe wrote it down.

Then, “Passio Sanctorum Innocentium” was written in 800 A.D. This is a story about how the innocents were slaughtered and how their parents coped with the aftermath.

The first Holy Innocents Day was celebrated in France by the Catholic Church in the 10th century. It became an official holiday of the Church by Pope Innocent VIII in 1491. It used to be a part of the Feast of Fools but was changed in 1400.

Finally, in 1960, the tunics were the clothes that priests wear to honor the martyrs. The color of the garments changes from purple to red to show respect for the martyrs.

When is the Day of the Holy Innocents?

The Day of the Holy Innocents is celebrated annually on December 28th. This date marks the anniversary of the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem. The Feast of the Holy Innocents may be celebrated by churches that are not Catholic on days other than December 28.

Holy Innocents Day

Why is the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents Celebrated?

The Holy Innocents’ Day is celebrated as a reminder of the innocent lives that were lost or the massacre of the innocents. It is also a reminder of how Jesus, the King of the Jews, had to flee from Herod, and how He became a refugee. The day is meant to be a day of reflection and prayer.

On December 28, it is a day to celebrate children. Many churches will have special services or events for children on this day. Our children bring the greatest joys to our lives. And we want to make sure that we celebrate them every day.

We use it as an opportunity to intentionally pray for children. Also, we pray for their safety, their health, and their well-being. We pray that they will grow up pursuing Christ and His purposes for them.

Who Celebrates Holy Innocents Day?

In addition to being observed by the Catholic Church, the feast day of the Holy Innocents is also observed by several other Christian groups, other western churches, and some eastern churches. This includes, but is not limited to, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Church, and the Methodist Church.

How To Observe The Holy Innocents Day

There are several ways to observe the feast day of the Holy Innocents on December 28.

Some people choose to attend church services on this day. Others may choose to reflect on the meaning of the day and pray for children who have been victimized.

Still, others may choose to do something special for children on this day. This could include taking them to a movie, buying them a small gift, or taking them out for ice cream.

No matter how you choose to observe this day, take a moment to think about the innocent lives that were lost and remember that each child is a precious gift from God.

Other Non-Religious Practices of the Day of the Holy Innocents

Some non-religious people celebrate the day by giving gifts to children.

This is a way of celebrating the innocence of childhood and remembering the innocent lives that were lost. It is also a way of showing love and appreciation for the children in our lives. If you are looking for a way to celebrate the day, consider giving a small gift to a child in your life. This does not have to be an expensive gift. A simple toy or book will do. The important thing is that you take the time to show them how much you care.

Over the years, it has developed into a day that is now celebrated as a joyful holiday, during which even the media will typically report on some ridiculous and entirely fabricated news story.

In Spain, one of the pranks that are played most frequently is to place a figure that has been cut out of white paper on the back of another person (without them realizing). An “inocentada” is the term used to describe this type of practical joke in Spanish. In addition, a wide variety of funny items, such as wigs, itching powder, false ink, and so on, can be purchased at any of the city’s various Christmas markets, which are typically set up in the city’s central plazas.

Another practice is on this particular day, it is customary to grant the youngest child in the family the authority to make decisions for the rest of the family. The person who is the youngest in the group decides everything, including what to eat, where to go, and what activities to do.

In the Philippines, though not practiced by many, Holy Innocents’ Day is when people would play tricks by borrowing money and not paying back. After you give the money, they would then say, “There is no payback. Today is Innocent’s Day”. Others would use the day to tell jokes as part of the celebration.

These practices have some quirkiness in them and sometimes events unrelated to the feast itself. But still many choose to celebrate it that way. Despite all that, we must never forget what the day is truly about. We must always choose to remember and honor the lives of the children that were taken that day. We hope and pray that something so terrible will never have to happen again.

Holy Innocents Day

In Summary

As we can see, Holy Innocents’ Day is a day to remember those innocent children who were slain. But it is also a day to celebrate children – all children. So take the time today to show some extra love to the little ones in your life. They are special gifts from God!

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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