INNOCENTS, FEAST OF THE HOLY. A church festival in honor of the children slain by Herod in Bethlehem (Matt. ii. 16-18). They were very early regarded as Christian martyrs, as Irenæus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and many later authors speak of them in that way. At what time the festival became commonly celebrated is not known. In the fifth century the holy innocents were commemorated in connection with the adoration of the Magi at the feast of Epiphany. The Carthaginian calendar, edited by Mabillon from a manuscript of the seventh century, has the entry opposite Dec. 28 "(the day) of the holy children slain by Herod." This day is still kept by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Episcopal churches, but the Greek Church observes Dec. 29. In course of time the feast received an octave.


In the Saturnalia (II., 4, 11) of Macrobius, the Roman writer in the fifth century, is this anecdote: "When he (Augustus) heard that among the boys whom in Syria Herod, the king of the Jews, had ordered to be killed there were infants of two years and under, he exclaimed: 'I had rather be a pig of Herod's than a son."' As the Saturnalia contains many anecdotes which carry with them indubitable evidence of being of contemporary origin, there is no reason for supposing that this one was the creation of a time subsequentto Augustus, but every probability that it, too, was contemporary, and so is an incidental, undesigned, but striking witness to the truthfulness of the Gospel story.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bingham, Origines, XX., vii. 12; J. C. W. Augusti, Denkwürdigkeiten, i. 304 sqq., Leipsic, 1817; P. Gueranger, L'Année liturgique, i. 366 sqq., Paris, 1880; W. E. Addis and T. Arnold, Catholic Dictionary, pp. 487-488, London, 1903; G. Wissowa, Analecta Macrobiana, in Hermes, xvi. 499 sqq.