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Holy Innocents' Day



     Messages from Stuart Rawlings suggest that he takes a dim view of people. I do, although perhaps for different reasons. Among the Christian religious days intended to call attention to what Unamuno called "the tragic sense of life" is Holy Innocents Day, December 28, which recalls the massacre of children by King Herod. This horrible episode has been transformed in Mexico into a day of practical jokes, such as borrowing money and not returning it. People go around with idiotic grins on their faces.
     Perhaps this is an excape from the misery of life, especially in Mexico City. Thousands of people eke out a living as street vendors and drive small businesses into bankruptcy. Thousands more cases were announced on December 28, a different kind of massacre.
     Curiously this coincided in Strasbourg with mic mac, a "holiday" when youths commit incredible acts of vandalism. I do not know if any other Catholic countries celebrate Holy Innocents Day in this way. Spain does not. Can anyone supplement this information?

Ronald Hilton - 12/29/98


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     Here is a comment on my memo on Holy Innocents' Day from Joan Ubeda, a visiting Knight Fellow from Barcelona, where he is Professor of Communications:
     "28th of december is the day of the Santos Inocentes, an equivalent to April's fool day. In Spain, people make light jokes to each other. The media take part too: I recall my station once announced that someone has invented a TV set that worked on gas (butane), not on AC --flocks of people popped up to see the invention."
     This implies that Catalonia is more Spanish than French, since the French "celebrate" April Fool's Day (poisson d'avril). The transfer of folk customs is significant. In Mexico, as noted, people follow the old Spanish habit of gobbling twelve grapes at Midnight December 31 while the clock strikes twelve. I don't know the origins of that custom. Is it observed in other Latin American countries and in Catalonia?
     As an admirer of Blasco Ibanez, I think that the cult of bullfighting indicates the degree of barbarity, and I would add prize-fighting. By this criterion, the Catalans are the most civilized of the Hispanic peoples. The Catalan government has issued a decree forbidding children under fourteen to attend bullfights or prize fights. TV showed a loutish bullfight fan denouncing the decree.
     The Holy Innocents Day jokes Joan Ubeda mentions are harmless, although they do not help the innocent. Strangely, the worst offenses were committed in Strasbourg, where the pranks culminated on New Year's Eve with the burning of forty automobiles.
     Generally, in the "Christian" world, the New Year was greeted, as on Madrid's Plaza del Sol, with mobs drinking and laughing idiotically. God bless the Pope, who was giving a sensitive homily in St.Peter's Square on the plight of mankind. President Jacques Chirac delivered a thoughtful TV message, as did some other world leaders. The Spanish royal family and government leaders, on a skiing vacation in the Pyrenees, toasted the New Year quietly. As usual, I set the world a good example: I was fast asleep.

Ronald Hilton - 01/01/99


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