'Day of the Holy Innocents'
is a religious holiday named in honour of the young children who were slaughtered by order of King Herod around the time of Jesus’ birth. These young victims were called Santos Inocentes or “Holy Innocents” because they were too young and innocent to have committed any sins.
Although the feast remains on the Catholic Liturgical calendar, today the religious aspect has been almost forgotten and the pranks that became popular during the Middle Ages have been combined with winter festivities of pagan origin.
Similar to Halloween, groups of children in towns across Spain used to go from house to house asking for candy or cookies, making noise with spoons and anise bottles, and singing traditional Christmas songs. The name for this is pedir el aguinaldo. The children’s payment or Aguinaldo, came in the form of sweets, such as mantecados or polvorones. This custom has faded, especially in the large cities, but is still practiced in some of the smaller villages. Bakers in Spain even got into the act by making salty rather than sweet cakes in days gone by.
Today most Spanish children play simple pranks like putting salt in the sugar bowl or sticking paper cut-outs on people's backs. After somebody plays a joke or a prank on somebody else, the joker usually cries out, "Inocente!"
However, unusual celebrations stemming from ancient traditions continue to be held, such as the “Flour Battle” that takes place in the streets of Ibi, Valencia and the “Crazy People’s Dance” in Jalance, also in Valencia.
In some villages, young boys of a town or village light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to perform civic chores such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration.
The most unusual celebration takes place in Setiles, where the focus is on the devil and a big Spanish meal for the village’s youth:
Setiles is a tiny town in Castilla-La Mancha. According to Setiles’ website, the festival includes noise making the night before, a mass, a dance, an auction and a man dressed as the devil – complete with horns, a goat’s beard, a wooden sword and a tail. The day is also known as “Devil’s Day” and the children follow the devil around the town all day, trying to get close enough to pull his tail. The young men of Setiles go from house to house collecting food “donations” for a feast of their own. Apparently, the “devil” helps the young people convince any reluctant townspeople to donate plenty of food including chorizo and morcilla sausages, jamon Serrano, bread and more. In the past, the donations were used to prepare and serve only those young men who came of age during the year, as well as the devil himself. However, today all the children of the town are invited to a big meal where cordero asado or cochinillo asado is the main course.
Here on the South Coast, the Fiesta de Verdiales in Malaga outdoes them all. It begins around midday at a wayside inn on the old mountain road between Málaga and Antequera. Thousands of people converge on La Venta del Tunel to watch country musicians in 20 groups locked in a contest to see who can play the longest and loudest.