Monday, March 31, 2008

April Fool's Day Theories (some anyway)

"If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day." ~ John A. Wheeler

"The first of April,
Some do say,
Is set apart,
As all Fool's Day.
Why people call it so,
Neither I,
Nor themselves,
Seem to know.
But on this day
Are people sent,
On purpose,
For pure merriment"
~ Anonymous

April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day is light hearted day of fun as a rule. The origins aren't certain, but some believe it a celebration related to the turn of the seasons,others believe it started with the adoption of a new calendar.Ancient peoples such as the Romans and the Hindus celebrated New Year's Day on or close to April first and much of Europe observed March 25, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered that a new calendar replace the old Julian Calendar. The new calendar called for New Year's Day to be January first. In that year France adopted the calendar and shifted New Year's day to January in accordance with the Pope's dictates. In a popular explanation, many people either refused to accept the new date, or didn't learn of it, and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April first. Others made fun of these traditionalists by sending them on "fool's errands" or telling them 'tall tales'. Eventually, the practice spread until all Europe was involved in the merriment.
There are at least two problems with this explanation. First, it doesn't account adequately for the spread of April Fools' Day to other European countries. The new calendar wasn't accepted by England until 1752, but April Fools' Day was already well established there by that time. Secondly, there is no direct historical evidence to support this explanation, only assumptions, and those appear to have been made more recently to fit the story, rather than resulting from the story.

Another explanation of April Fools' Day, provided by a professor of history at BU. He explains that the practice began during the reign of Constantine when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine, amused, allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, and the custom became an annual event. In those days fools were wise men, whose role It was to put things in perspective by using humor. This explanation was made public in an AP story run in many newspapers in 1983. The catch, BU Professor Boskin made the whole thing up. It took a couple weeks for the AP to realize that they'd been victims of an April Fools' joke themselves.

Various cultures had days of general silliness around April first, or within a couple weeks of the date. A Roman festival, 'Hilaria', adopted from the Greeks, was observed on March twenty-fifth for celebrating the resurrection of 'Attis', life-death-rebirth deity. The Hindu calendar has Holi, the Jewish calendar has Purim. Perhaps that time of year, and the change from winter to spring, itself is cause for lightheartedness to reign supreme. What better time to celebrate with goofiness?

April Fool's Day is observed throughout the Western world by sending folks on 'fool's errands, looking for that which doesn't exist, playing harmless pranks, and getting people believing the ridiculous. The French call April first 'Poisson d'Avril' or 'April Fish' French kids often attach a picture of a fish to the backs of their schoolmates while yelling 'Poisson d'Avril' when the picture is found. These are just a few of the many stories about the origins of the day's activities. Soon, a closer look at the 'spaghetti tree' story. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've some pranks to prepare. Until next time, take care.


Cherie said...

Those cartoons are hilarious!

I'm going to have to give some more thought to what I can do for April Fools. I KNOW my kids will take full advantage of me - it's like a free ticket to torture parents. Ha!

Thanks for this timely, informative look at a very strange calendar day, Mike.

Mies said...

Yum...happy face cookies...WOT!!!!....No recipe for them here??? Well, this is the last you'll see of me!!!!!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.