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The Massacre of the Infants

The Massacre of the Infants. PP Rubens. 1611 circa. Royal Arts museum. Belgium.

What’s today commemoration?

The Holy Bible tells this in Matthew 2, 13-18:

 “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

Why then if this is a day to honor the brutal massacre, is a day for laughing and play pranks?


A Roman party. Roberto Bompiani. 1875.

After a painful defeat against the powerful Cártago, the Romans began to celebrate Saturn, god of time, agriculture and supernatural things, to raise morale.

In the time of Augustus, Saturnalia lasted two days, Caesar, Caligula and those caesars who followed him extended the holidays progressively, partying for a whole week.
The beginning of the festivities began with the winter solstice, the “Undefeated Sun”, a time to rest and enjoy the harvests after working the field throughout the year.

To beging with, there was a sacrifice offered in Saturn’s temple, at the foot of the Capitol. Then, the festivities began, marked by the relaxation of social roles and rules, since the roles were exchanged. Men dressed and behaving like women, masters dressed and serving their slaves who could now as well command their masters…

The “domus” was another important center of the celebration, therefore they were adorned with vegetable motifs and candles that recalled the birth of the invincible sun whose light increases every day. In them the families celebrated banquets and gave each other gifts. They were days to spend as a family, sharing and celebrating.

At this point, the resemblance to our Christmas is undeniable, right? Let’s continue…

The pranks

December 28th, Saints innocents day.

It has already being said that during the Saturnalia it was customary the exchange of social roles and rules, well, to make matters worst, the Romans had another ritual.

This one consisted in selecting among the humblest members of the house the so called “Saturnalicius princeps”, that is, the Saturnalia king, who were granted the right to perform all kinds of misdeeds.

And That’s the reason why nowadays, every December 28th we become a little Roman by giving us license to play pranks and mischief, so those little social tension would be relaxed too.

This festivity is also known as April fools, “le poisson d’avril” in France…

As far as I am concerned, you can see that if we put in a blender some of the components of the Saturnalia, along with other pagan traditions like the one already mentioned about the Christmas tree and we make them up with Christian rituals as well as adding some more, we have as a result the way we celebrate currently Christmas time … What do you think?


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