Herod’s Delusion (A Drink for the Holy Innocents)


Pour espresso over the fig syrup. Add walnut bitters to the milk and steam it. Put four drops of Angostura on top of the foam.

* * * *

December 28th is a Christian Holy Day that reflects on the slaughter of the “Holy Innocents”–infants massacred in Bethlehem by King Herod, who was trying to kill the infant Jesus. It is an incredibly dark part of the Christmas story which we can often overlook in the midst of all the joy and pageantry of the season.

In Matthew 2, the wise men come to Herod saying they’re looking for an infant in Bethelehem who would grow up to become king (which was news to Herod). He told them to let him know when they had found this baby, but after finding Jesus they heeded the warning of a dream and left without telling Herod.

In a rage, he “killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under”, trying to kill Jesus. But Mary and Joseph had already fled.

The story brings up a lot of questions, both historical and theological–and there are no easy answers (here’s a reflection on it from my old pastor).

But the Christian Church has come to honor these infants as the first martyrs of Christianity. They died not only for Jesus, but also in his place. Augustine beautifully says, “they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution”.

It is with a lot of these themes in mind that I offer this drink. It may seem trite and minimizing to make a latte in “honor” of such a dark event, but I find these creative and sensory experiences truly aid my own reflection. The intentionality and car that goes into the preparation involves my full self and helps me participate in this more deeply. Hopefully it does the same for you.

And the drink is full of more depth and symbolism than you might think. Bitters represent weeping. Figs are a scriptural symbol for Israel as a nation. Walnuts are an ancient symbol of fertility and children, and in Christianity they were used as an image of the Trinity (due to their layers). The Angostura drops remind us of the bloodshed on that day.

This is a warming, comforting drink in this cold season. It perfectly balances the bitter and the sweet, which is precisely what we strive to do with this story on this day.


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