– By Valerie Green –
“The First of April, some do say,
Is set apart for All Fools’ Day.
But why the people call it so,
Nor I, nor they themselves do know.
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.”
I wonder how many people still consider April 1st as being ‘open season’ to play tricks on friends, and if so, how many will actually play jokes on others? And, in fact, how and when did this rather silly custom first begin?
The history of “All Fool’s Day” is somewhat unclear, but some believe it started around 1582 in France, and was associated with the first day of spring. Prior to 1582, a new year was celebrated for eight days and began on March 25th ending on April 1st.
Once the Gregorian calendar came into being, New Year’s Day was moved to January 1st. It took a few years for everyone to realize this and even when most people had been informed of the calendar change, some continued to celebrate a new year on April 1st. Tradition has it that these obstinate folk who would not accept change were dubbed “fools” and ridiculed by their peers, often becoming the butt of practical jokes.
The idea of playing jokes on people soon spread throughout Europe and into England and Scotland by the eighteenth century. Later the custom was introduced into the American colonies and eventually April Fool’s Day had become an international event with different countries using their own brand of humour to celebrate the day.
Did you know, for instance, that in Mexico, the equivalent of April Fool’s Day is observed in December, originally thought to be a sad reminder of innocent children being killed by the infamous King Herod. Later, it took on a lighter note and involved tricks and pranks.
In Scotland April Fool’s Day continues for two days with the second day being set aside for specific jokes involving the rear end of one’s person. The origin of the “kick me” sign placed in this vicinity of one’s anatomy is traced to this.
In France, April 1st is called “Poisson d’Avril”, a time when French children tape a paper fish to the backs of their friends and when the friend discovers it there, the jokester yells “Poisson d’Avril!” meaning April Fish! Go figure!
Practical jokes have continued to be played on others down through the years. Jokes from re-filling the sugar bowl with salt to college students setting clocks an hour behind so their friends show up late to class, but mostly these jokes are meant to be harmless and everyone laughs, even the person on whom the joke has been played.
I believe that Mark Twain, the famous American writer and humourist, had the best quote about April Fool’s Day. He said:
“The First of April is the day we remember what we really are like on the other 364 days of the year.”
Valerie Green is an author/historian and can be reached at email@example.com