In some places, it was the custom on this day to beat children, in order to remind them of the sad and unjust end of the innocent children whom King Herod ordered to be slaughtered in his attempt to destroy Jesus. We seriously doubt the wisdom or the effectiveness of such a discipline today. There are other, more positive, traditions that we recommend. Holy Innocents’ Day (another Prayer Book Holy Day on which attendance at the Eucharist is proper) is the traditional day for the installation of the Boy Bishop (learn more about this custom by clicking here). This is a day when children should have the preeminence in family life, leading the family prayers, making decisions about family activities for the day, having the place of honor at meals, and so forth. Households that do not have children might “adopt” a neighborhood family or two with their children and make a party at which the children are the guests of honor.
The story of the Holy Innocents is one of the most poignant stories in all of Scripture, “Rachel weeping for her children… because they are no more.” It is a day to give thanks for the children in our lives, whether in our own families or in the larger family of the Church. And it is a good day to revive the ancient custom of parents blessing their children at the end of the day, as part of their nightly prayers.
The Blessing of Children by Parents
O God our Father, whose Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, once embraced the little children who were brought to him, saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and their angels always see the face of my Father;” Look now, we beseech thee, on the innocence of these children: Bless them and protect them this night and throughout their lives; (the parent makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each child) in thy grace and goodness let them advance continually, longing for thee, knowing thee, and loving thee, that they may at the last come to their destined home and behold thee face to face; through Jesus Christ, the Holy Child of Bethlehem, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Then, taking the head of each child in both hands, a parent says to each one: May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit bless you and keep you both now and for evermore. Amen.