The origins of April Fool’s Day – really
When I was a little girl, I loved April Fool’s Day. I loved it because I was basically a pest (pest in the past tense, of course), and April Fool’s gave me carte blanche to be as obnoxious as I could stand to be.
Salt in the sugar bowl? Oh yeah. Food coloring in the milk? Every April Fool’s Day our milk miraculously turned green, or blue or red. Setting the clocks back? Never failed.
Actually, my antics got to be so expected on April 1 nobody would even flinch when the milk came out of the container bright blue. Everybody ended up going by their wristwatch for the correct time on April 1 instead of one of the clocks in our house that I had set forward or back.
Actually, time has a little bit to do with the real history behind April Fool’s. From what I’ve been able to gather, April Fool’s Day started back in the 16th century in France. April Fool’s Day started when King Charles IX adopted the Gregorian calendar. What that means in real language is that the King of France decided to move the beginning of the new year to Jan. 1.
That’s always stumped me a bit. The beginning of winter starts around Dec. 21. Typically, it’s cold, it’s snowy – at least where we live, anyway – it’s not much the beginning of anything, and then pow! Here comes New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, and New Year’s Day on Jan. 1. A new year? Everything is kind of the way it was last month. Nothing’s new, nothing is growing. Hmmm.
The way it used to be, March 25 was the beginning of an eight-day holiday celebrating the new year that would last through April 1. This makes more sense (and sounds like a lot more fun than one measly night). March 21 is the start of spring. Stuff is budding up, birds are chirping, grass is growing, days are longer. It feels like the start of something. What a great time to have the new year start up, too.
But back to April Fool’s Day. I guess back in 1582, before the days of faxes, Pony Express, telephones, e-mails, TVs, radios and the like, news of the date change on New Year’s took a while to get to people, like a few years, in some cases for those living in the boonies. Besides that, plenty of people flat out refused to acknowledge Jan. 1 as New Year’s Day. (How would you like it if your king decided to do something monumental without asking your opinion? Oh, gee, maybe we already know what that feels like.)
So these folks were sort of made fun of, and became the butt of many a practical jokester. Pranksters would send invitations to these so-called fools to parties that didn’t exist, or goofball gifts to those who refused to accept the new new year’s day.
Like a lot of phenomenon, April Fool’s Day can’t just be pinpointed to this change in the calendar. Throughout many cultures, the beginning of spring sets off all kinds of celebrations and emotions. People venture outside after a long winter. They’re out and about more. They goofed around. So April Fool’s got wrapped up in many cultures’ attitudes with spring arriving once again.
After a few generations, the entire holiday morphed into April Fool’s Day, sort of a goofy fun fest celebrated in France, Scotland, England, and later in the United States.
I still think it’s a day worth celebrating. I especially like it because the greeting card companies and the holiday manufacturers haven’t really hooked into how to commercialize April Fool’s Day. Unlike Valentine’s Day, where American men are guilted into buying flowers and taking their gal out for a fancy dinner, you can’t really market April Fool’s in the same way. Can you imagine? Bob Boyfriend takes Ginny Girlfriend out on a date for April Fool’s. After giving his beloved a heartfelt card inscribed, “You’re My Favorite Fool,” he douses her with a squirt gun rose, then follows up with placing a whoopee cushion on the chair at his date’s favorite restaurant. Probably not.
I still love April Fool’s Day. After all, we live in a crazy enough world that one day out of the year, I still think it’s quite valuable for us to commemorate how foolish we all really are. Or, as Mark Twain, once wrote, “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 354 days of the year.”
Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody. And watch out. That blue milk you pour today may be your own.
Carrie Click is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column runs on Tuesdays.
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