April 1st has just passed – April Fool’s Day in the United States – and this reminded me that Mexico also has a day in which pranks are played, but that day occurs on December 28th and is called Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents). While the custom on both days is to play pranks, the origins of the two holidays are dramatically different.
The origin of the Mexican day is more straightforward, so I will begin with that.
Mexico is a very Catholic country, and according to the Catholic religion, when the baby Jesus was born the Sacred Family was visited by the Three Magi. On the way to visit the family, the Magi informed King Herod of the birth of Jesus. King Herod asked the Magi to return to him after the visit and inform him of where he could find the child, so that he might also worship him. However, King Herod’s true intentions were to find and kill the child because he thought Jesus would depose him from his throne and become a king himself.
After the Magi visited the family, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod and so they returned to their homeland by a different route. When he realized that he had been tricked, King Herod ordered that every male child under the age of two years to be murdered, thinking that one of the murdered children would be Jesus, thus securing the safety of his position as king.
While there have been many paintings depicting the slaughter of the Holy Innocents (the innocent children murdered by King Herod) the current practice here in Mexico is to play pranks on people – a reminder of the deception of the Magi with regard to King Herod and how they fooled him by returning home without giving him the information he requested.
One of the few non-gory paintings of the Día de los Inocentes
Unlike the Día de los Inocentes, the origin of April Fool’s Day is still a mystery, although there are many differing theories. One theory posits that the origin was in 1582 in France, when that country switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar, implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes. While eleven minutes doesn’t seem like such a big deal, over the years it results in the seasons becoming disconnected from their traditional months at the rate of 1 day every 128 years.
In France, the New Year began with the spring equinox, around April 1st. With the implementation of the new Gregorian calendar, the New Year began on January 1st, thus people who inadvertently celebrated the new year during the last week of March through April 1st became “April fools” and the recipients of jokes.
Other theories are that the tradition began with the festival of Hilaria (Festival of Joy) in Ancient Rome or began with the celebration of the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fools people with changing, unpredictable weather.
While the actual origin has been lost in the mists of time, the tradition of jokes and pranks continues to this day in many countries.
2 thoughts on “Día de Los Inocentes and April Fool’s Day”
Thanks, Pat!! I appreciate the research you do, and then share. This was all new to me.
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Fun! Here I learned the root of the word “hilarious” is the Ancient Roman Festival Hilaria, which is Latin for joyful. Thanks.