Equivalent of April Fools’ Day Celebrated in December

Fiesta of Los Enharinados in Ibi, Spain.
Participants are covered with flour at the fiesta of Los Enharinados in Ibi, Spain. Fotógrafo Ibi/Creative Commons ASA 4.0 International.

If you should be in a Spanish-speaking country some April 1 and play a joke on your friends and follow that up with a shout of "¡Tontos de abril!" chances are you'll get nothing but 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 Dec. 28.

The Day of the Holy Innocents also known sometimes in English as the Feast of the Holy Innocents or as Childermas.

How Dec. 28 Is Celebrated

The day is observed throughout the Spanish-speaking world in much the same way as April Fools' Day. But when the prankster is ready to reveal the joke, the saying is "¡Inocente, inocente!" or "Innocent one, innocent one!" (See the lesson on making nouns out of adjectives for the grammar behind this.) It is also common on that day for newspapers and TV stations to print or broadcast "news" stories based in humor rather than fact.

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.)

Celebrating With a Food Fight

One of world's more unusual celebrations of any kind is used to mark Dec. 28 in Ibi, Alicante, Spain, not far from the middle of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. In a tradition more than 200 years old, townspeople engage in a massive food fight of sorts—but it's all in good fun and is used to raise money for charity.

After a several decades in which the festivities were suspended for the Spanish Civil War and subsequent national events, they were revived in 1981 and have become a tourist draw and major event since then. The festivities are known as Els Enfarinats in Valencian, the local language closely tied to Catalan. In Spanish, it's known as the fiesta of Los Enharinados, loosely translated as "The Flour-Covered Ones." (Enharinar is the verb for coating something with flour, known as harina.)

The festivities traditionally begin around 8 a.m. when participants in mock military attire stage a fake coup and take "control" of the town and enact all sorts of crazy "ordinances" in program called New Justice — Justícia Nova in Catalan and Justicia Nueva in Spanish. Those who brake the pretend ordinances are fined, with the money going to worthy causes.

Eventually, a massive fight ensues between the "rulers" and the "opposition," a battle fought with flour, vegetables and other harmless projectiles. Festive dancing marks the end of the "battle."

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 Dec. 28 is not an officially observed holiday, some of the festivities can last the entire day.

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.

Key Takeaways

  • In most Spanish-speaking countries, Dec. 28 is observed as the Día de los Santos Inocentes, or the Day of the Holy Innocents, commemorating the Biblical story of King Herod killing babies in Bethlehem.
  • The day is observed in some areas much like April Fools' Day is observed in the United States.
  • Colorful celebrations are held in some other areas to observe the day.