I don’t know about you, but I was never one for playing pranks as a kid. I never dipped a fellow camper’s hand in warm water hoping she’d wet her sleeping bag….I never affixed a “Kick Me” sign to anyone’s unsuspecting back as they passed my desk in math class…I don’t even know what it means to short sheet someone’s bed. So can you please explain to me what’s up with April Fools Day?
Being somewhat cerebral, I decided to do a little research online. Apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand this holiday-of-sorts. Historians can’t even agree on the genesis of this not-so-noteworthy day.
One popular theory is that April Fools Day – or All Fool’s Day – began around 1582 in France with the reform of the calendar under Charles IX. At this time the Gregorian calendar was introduced, moving New Year’s from the week of March 25th to January 1st as we know it today. Apparently communications being what they were in the days before CNN and Fox News, not everyone got the message – some not for several years (years!). Others refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1st. These non-reformers were labeled as “fools” by the general populace. They were subjected to ridicule and were often sent on “fool’s errands” or were made the butt of other practical jokes.
I was surprised to find that the advent of spring brings with it much jocularity around the world: For example Scotland and Taily Day are responsible for the genesis of the hilarious “kick me” gags. In England, those jolly old chaps only joke in the morning (apparently it’s considered bad luck to play a prank on someone after noon). In Rome, this very special day is known as the Festival of Hilaria, commemorating the resurrection of the God Attis. (I know I always thought that life after death was a joke.) The Portuguese celebrate April Fools Day on the Sunday and Monday before Lent by throwing flour at their friends (truly hilarious in my book and great fun for those with celiac’s disease). And lastly, in India, the Huli Festival on March 31st includes people smearing bright colors on one another in celebration of spring. (I’m not kidding. You can’t make this stuff up! Plus, I found it on the internet so it must be true!)
Maybe it’s in our DNA. Maybe there is some genetic need in us humans to shrug off the dourness of the long, cold, winter by engaging in foolish behavior and playing pranks on our unsuspecting neighbors.
I mean look at those astro-physicists and brainiacs at MIT. From snow-making in the dormitories to turbojets in the lecture halls, those geeks have a longstanding tradition of what they call “hacks” — ingenious and outrageous acts that take too much talent to simply call practical jokes. Many of their more famous hacks have to do with putting the most bizarre things atop the university’s Great Dome. In May of 1994 it was a police car complete with flashing lights, a lifelike policewoman, and a half-eaten box of donuts. Other hacks constructed atop the MIT dome include a working phone booth, a dorm room allegedly set up to relieve overcrowding in the dormitories, and a life-size fiberglass cow with a mortarboard on its head.
Let the hilarity ensue! Heretofore, I thought foolishness was reserved for those who actually believed there were weapons of mass destruction, voted for Dennis Kucinich, or applied for a sub-prime mortgage. (I’ve got a 30-year fixed at 5.65%. Who’s laughing now?) Noted author John Updike is quoted as saying “Looking foolish does the spirit good.” Really? What about those celebs who were foolish enough to leave the confines of their home –and their cars – without their lacy underwear again and again and again? Do Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen think their foolishness (which was caught on tape) does a spirit — or a body — good?
Me? I’m nobody’s fool!