(Old English) Childermas (Mass of the Holy Innocents) (Bloody heath, Erica cruenta, is today’s plant, dedicated to the innocents massacred by King Herod)
Matthew, ii, 16-18: Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
“… Herod’s massacre of the innocents. It used to be the custom on Childermas to whip the children (and even adults) that the memory of Herod’s murder of the Innocents might stick the closer’. This practice forms the plot of several tales in the Decameron.” (Evans 1988) King Herod, having heard that a god-child had been born, put thousands of babies ton the sword. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the baby Jesus.
Childermas is supposed to be a day of bad omen, and one should never marry on it. Nor put on new clothes, pare the nails, or begin anything important. The coronation of King Edward IV was postponed till the following Monday.
It was considered once to be about the unluckiest day of the year. No work or undertakings were begun today, and one was not to marry.
Cornwall: housewives and cleaners refrain from scrubbing on this day, as late as 1860s.
France: people believed that spectral huntsmen in the sky on stormy evenings (a motif found throughout Europe, known in Britain as the Wild Hunt) were the spirits of the Holy Innocents being pursued by King Herod.
Belgium: Children play all sorts of tricks on their elders, including stealing their keys and locking them up.
GrannyMoon’s Morning Feast and Wilson’s Almanac