In Many Countries Of Latin America, April Fools Day Is Actually Celebrated In December, In Remembrance Of The ‘Santos Inocentes’
If you should find yourself in a Latin American country some April 1 and play a joke on your friends and follow that up with a shout of “April fools!” chances are you’ll get little more than blank stares as a reaction. The minor holiday of April Fools’ Day, perennially popular in the United States, is little known in Spain and Spanish-speaking Latin America, but there is a rough equivalent, el Día de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Holy Innocents), observed on December 28.
The Day of the Holy Innocents is also known sometimes in English as the Feast of the Holy Innocents or as Childermas.
Día de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Holy Innocents) is a day for all kinds of practical jokes but beware of lending money. According to tradition, there is no obligation to pay back anything borrowed on this day.
Where the tradition came from.
In its origins, the day is a sort of gallows humor. The Day of the Innocents observes the day when, according to the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, King Herod ordered the baby boys under 2 years old in Bethlehem to be killed because he was afraid that the baby Jesus born there would become a rival. As it turned out, though, the baby Jesus had been taken away to Egypt by Mary and Joseph. So the “joke” was on Herod, and thus followed the tradition of tricking friends on that day. (This is a sad story, but according to tradition the babies murdered in Jesus’ stead went to heaven as the first Christian martyrs.)
The date is set on December 28 in part because it is a few days after the celebration of Jesus’s birth.
But the concept of “a trick” comes into play because King Herod was fooled into believing that he had eliminated the threat, which he had not. The concept of behaving in a naughty way dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe, when there was a “festival of the crazies” between December 24 and 31. A blind eye was turned to many kinds of excess but the festival got out of hand in Spain, forcing King Phillip II to ban it. The celebration became a day associated with playing tricks and the practice of borrowing something to be returned on Candlemas, February 2.
Other Observances of Inocentes
Several other regions have distinctive ways of observing the Day of the Holy Innocents. For example, various celebrations are widespread in Venezuela, where many of the celebrations mix European and indigenous traditions. In some areas, for example, festivities are held in which children dress as the elderly, the elderly dress as children, leaders dressed in tattered clothing, men dress as women and women as men and so on, and many wear colorful masks, headgear, and/or costumers. Names or some of these festivals include the festival of the locos and locaínas (the crazy ones). Although December 28 is not an officially observed holiday, some of the festivities can last the entire day.
Another celebration of Los Santos Inocentes
Another noteworthy celebration takes place in El Salvador, where the largest observance of the day takes place in Antiguo Cuscatlán. Floats for a parade are adorned with pictures of children representing those in the Biblical story. A street fair is also held.
Like other Spanish Catholic observances, this made its way to Mexico and has evolved in its own way. There is a phrase recited to those who have been fooled is “Inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar en este Día de los Inocentes, que en nadie debes confiar.” (Innocent dove, you let yourself be fooled on this Day of the Innocents, when nobody should be trusted.)