At first glance, the snow-covered village scene of 16th century Netherlandish peasant life seems quaint, playful, and charming, as many of Bruegel's genre paintings are. But a closer look tells another, horrible story. Herod's soldiers attach the entire village: at far left, a man on horseback pursues a fleeing woman, while friends try to console a grief-stricken mother above. At the door of the house, a baby and young child are torn from a mothers arm. In the center front, a frightened colt is about to be stabbed, despite protestation -- a typological sign for the colt that Jesus would be astride, entering Jerusalem, toward his own death.
The center of the work is sickeningly inventive in its focus on violent death, with the slaughter of animals as well as children. At the right, Herod, dressed in a fancy turban, rides astride a white horse. A woman prays, pleads, for the life of her young child, and soldiers plunder the stores within the house on the edge of the scene. The terror that accompanies the threat of Christ's becoming the New King reminds us of the sacrifice made for us by humble folk and by Christ himself.