What is Los Santos Inocentes?

The Mexican festival of Los Santos Inocentes (the innocent saints) is similar to our April Fools’ Day. It is celebrated on December 28th and it was originally to recall the innocent children killed by King Herod.

It was known at first as a day when you could borrow something and not have to return it, so people would try to trick others into lending them something valuable on that day. Nowadays it is a day for practical jokes in general.

Related post: Poisson d’avril

Poisson d’Avril

On the 1st of April in France they celebrate Poisson d’Avril. The idea of the day is to pin a paper fish on your friend’s back without them noticing.

Nobody knows for certain where this tradition has come from but it’s believed to date back to 1564 when Charles IX decided to move the beginning of the year from 1st of April to the 1st of January. In the days before phones and instant messaging, it took a long time for communications to filter through to everybody, and so the people in the countryside, that is mostly the uneducated folk, were the last to receive the news and so they carried on celebrating new year on the 1st of April. The upper classes mocked them for this, and started giving gifts on the 1st of April as a joke.

Because April 1st was often still during the period of Lent, meat was not allowed and so often fish would have been the main part of meal. For this reason many of the gifts were of fish, and over time the presents became more jokey and some people began to give fake fish on this day.

One of the best things about this time of year in France now, is that you can buy chocolate fish in the shops!

Related post: April Fools’ Day

April Fools’ Day

Be very careful if someone asks you for an unusual favour tomorrow.  Or even if they tell you a strange story or you read about bizarre events online.  You might be the victim of an April Fools’ Day prank.  You certainly wouldn’t be the first person to be caught out though.  A day where people play jokes and tricks on one another has been around for many centuries and is found in cultures across the world.  The Romans had the festival of Hilaria, while the Holi festival in India has a long tradition too.  April Fools’ Day is our version.

Nobody knows exactly when April Fools’ Day began and the reasons why 1st April is the day for pranks are uncertain too.  The original “Feast of Fools” in the Middle Ages, which shared many of the same traditions and ideas, was in December but the day for playing jokes on your friends, neighbours and anyone you can catch out had shifted to April by around the 15th Century in most of Europe.  In Medieval times, April 1st marked the end of the New Year celebrations and there is evidence that a day of jokes and tricks was incorporated into the New Year festivities.  It has also been suggested that the original “April fools” were people who continued to celebrate new year in spring even after it had been officially moved to 1st January.

Different countries have their own slightly different traditions but the basic idea is always the same – to try and trick someone into doing something or believing a far-fetched story, and then revealing the prank by proclaiming them an “April Fool” for being gullible enough to fall for it.  The tricks are normally harmless, so that the victim is just left feeling silly rather than suffering any injury or loss.  Traditionally, if you want to play an April Fools’ joke on someone, you have to do it before midday, otherwise you are the fool yourself.  The date marks my sister’s birthday and I always used to say she was an April Fool, but she was keen to remind me that she was born in the evening so the rest of the family are the fools!

Over the years, tricks have become bigger and more elaborate, particularly in recent decades when modern media like TV and the Internet can be used to make even the most outlandish tales seem credible and huge numbers of people can be fooled at the same time.  Some of the most famous April Fools pranks include the BBC’s news report (complete with video footage) in 1957 of Swiss farmers picking spaghetti off trees, when hundreds of people contacted the BBC asking where they could buy a spaghetti plant, and the announcement in 1995 by the manufacturers of Polo mints that they would no longer be able to make mints with holes in because of European legislation.

The fact that so many newspapers, broadcasters and media companies are eager participants in April Fools traditions means that releasing real news on 1st April can be difficult because people assume it is a hoax.  In 2004, Google chose 1st April to launch its new Gmail service offering a bigger and better mailbox than any other email service at the time.  As the company had perpetrated several elaborate hoaxes in the past, many people assumed the announcement was another one and Google had to publish supplementary details to convince everyone that it was a genuine story.  And they were not the first to be caught out this way.  In the 16th Century, a French nobleman and his wife were said to have escaped from captivity on April 1st by dressing as peasants.  When their ruse was discovered and reported to the guards, the tale was dismissed as a prank and by the time the truth was discovered the captives were miles away.  Those guards were truly April Fools!

While the exact origins of the tradition are lost in the mists of time, most people agree that having a day devoted to light-hearted tricks and jokes is generally a good thing provided the pranks are harmless and the hoax is revealed quickly.  Nobody likes to be caught out as an April Fool but we can usually admire the creativity of a well thought out and convincingly delivered trick and join in with the laughter, and perhaps even laugh at ourselves for falling for the joke.

This post was written by my fabulous husband – Blue Badge Guide Ian Braisby.

Related post: Poisson d’avril