On the feast of the Holy Innocents—also known as Childermas—we Catholics remember the day on which children in Bethlehem were massacred shortly after the birth of Jesus. King Herod wanted the child Jesus, a threat to his kingship, dead, so he ordered all males under the age of two to be killed. Although the mood is somber due to the nature of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in some Hispanic and Latin American countries like Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela the day is one of joy and of mischief.
“What?!” you may be asking yourself. “Who would want to commemorate this day with laughter?” Well, you can blame that on word play.
In Spanish, this day is called “Día de los Inocentes” — Day of the Innocents. Because of the name, people celebrate it as a type of April Fools Day. The saying goes, “Inocente palomita, que te dejaste engañar, sabiendo que en este día nada se debe prestar.” Translated it says, “Innocent dove, you’ve let yourself be fooled, knowing that on this day nothing should be lent.”
Much like the secular April Fools Day, jokes include telling family and friends news that would surprise/shock them, such as “We’re getting married!” or “We’re pregnant!” Pranks abound, and no one is safe.
Of course, not everyone partakes in this mischief-making for the Holy Innocents. Those who wish to honor the slain children, the first official martyrs, may choose to do so. In medieval England, it is said that children were whipped first thing in the morning as a reminder of the significance of the day. Thankfully, this custom died (no pun intended) in the 17th century. I don’t think anyone wants it to make a comeback, either. But there are so other things you can do.
Also the the Feast of the Holy Innocents, as a lighthearted celebration, you can let the youngest child in your family be the “ruler of the day” by letting them decide what you will eat, drink, and do for the day. You can also follow the Hispanic tradition of pulling pranks and telling innocent jokes, calling them an “innocent dove” once you reveal your joke. You can look to saints-to-be (and known pranksters) Bl. Miguel Pro and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati for inspiration on what sort of jokes you can pull.
For a more serious commemoration, you can have a special meal during the day in which red-colored foods can be served. Think Jell-O,cranberries sauce or juice, raspberries, etc. Parents can also take holy water and blessed their own children as well. You can also say a prayer for all those who’ve lost their children at an early age.
Whatever you do for the feast, don’t forget to read Matthew 2:16 and say a prayer for all those little souls (and their families) who’ve passed on way too soon. Holy Innocents, pray for us!