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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Origin Of April Fool's Day

Origin Of April Fool's Day
Happy April Fools' Day from
The origin of this holiday is rather uncertain. Basically no one knows exactly where, when, or why the celebration began. It's difficult to trace the exact origin of the day, because the people celebrating it back then weren't the kind of people who kept records of what they did. 'All Fool's Day' began to appear in Europe during the late Middle Ages. The tradition of a day devoted to foolery had ancient roots and many ancient predecessors.

It is generally accepted that the All Fool's Day tradition began in France during the Sixteenth Century, when the beginning of the New Year was observed on April 1. At that time, the festivities ran for a week, beginning on March 25, and included the exchanging of gifts.

In 1582, however, during the reign of King Charles IX, Pope Gregory introduced a revised calendar for the Christian world wherein the New Year fell on January 1. Since it took some time, possibly even years, for many people to even hear word of the change and since others obstinately refused to accept such reform or simply forgot, New Year's Day continued to be celebrated on the first day of April in many areas. Individuals who had accepted the dates of the new calendar played tricks on those who had not and referred to the unfortunate victims of such pranks as "April Fools," sending them on a "fool's errand" or attempting to make them believe that something which was true was actually false. Over time, this practice evolved into an annual tradition of April 1 prank-playing, eventually migrating to England and Scotland during the Eighteenth Century and thus, introduced to the American colonies by British and French settlers.

Ancient Roots
Throughout antiquity numerous festivals included celebrations of foolery and trickery. The Saturnalia, a Roman winter festival observed at the end of December, was the most important of these. It involved dancing, drinking, and general merrymaking. People exchanged gifts, slaves were allowed to pretend that they ruled their masters, and a mock king, the Saturnalicius princeps (or Lord of Misrule), reigned for the day. By the fourth century AD the Saturnalia had transformed into a January 1 New Year's Day celebration, and many of its traditions were incorporated into the observance of Christmas. In late March the Romans honored the resurrection of Attis, son of the Great Mother Cybele, with the Hilaria celebration. This involved rejoicing and the donning of disguises.

Further afield in India there was Holi, known as the festival of color, during which street celebrants threw tinted powders at each other, until everyone was covered in garish colors from head to toe. This holiday was held on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Phalguna usually the end of February or the beginning of March.

Northern Europeans observed an ancient festival to honor Lud, a Celtic god of humor. And there were also popular Northern European customs that made sport of the hierarchy of the Druids. All of these celebrations could have served as precedents for April Fool's Day.

Medieval Roots
During the middle ages, a number of celebrations developed which served as direct predecessors to April Fool's Day. The most important of these was the Festus Fatuorum (the Feast of Fools) which evolved out of the Saturnalia. On this day (mostly observed in France) celebrants elected a mock pope and parodied church rituals. The church, of course, did its best to discourage this holiday, but it lingered on until the sixteenth century. Following the suppression of the Feast of Fools, merrymakers focused their attention on Mardi Gras and Carnival.

There was also the medieval figure of the Fool, the symbolic patron saint of the day. Fools became prominent in late medieval Europe, practicing their craft in a variety of settings such as town squares and royal courts. Their distinctive dress remains well known today: multicolored robe, horned hat, and sceptre and bauble.

Mythological Roots
There have been quite a few attempts to provide mythological explanations for the rise of April Fool's Day.

For instance, it was once popular to attempt to christianize the celebration by locating its origin somewhere in Biblical traditions. In one such version, the day's origin is attributed to Noah's mistake of sending a dove out from the ark before the flood waters had subsided (thereby sending the dove on a fool's errand). A second story tells that the day commemorates the time when Jesus was sent from Pilate to Herod and back again. The phrase "Sending a man from Pilate to Herod" (an old term for sending someone on a fool's errand) was often pointed to as proof of this origin theory.

But there were rival mythological explanations linking the celebration to pagan roots. For instance, April Fool's Day was often traced back to Roman mythology, particularly the myth of Ceres and Proserpina. In Roman mythology Pluto, the God of the Dead, abducted Proserpina and brought her to live with him in the underworld. Proserpina called out to her mother Ceres (the Goddess of grain and the harvest) for help, but Ceres, who could only hear the echo of her daughter's voice, searched in vain for Proserpina. The fruitless search of Ceres for her daughter (commemmorated during the Roman festival of Cerealia) was believed by some to have been the mythological antecedent of the fool's errands popular on April 1st.

British folklore linked April Fool's Day to the town of Gotham, the legendary town of fools located in Nottinghamshire.

According to the legend, it was traditional in the 13th century for any road that the King travelled over to become public property. The citizens of Gotham, not wishing to lose their main road, spread a false story to stop King John from passing through their town. When the King learned of their deception, he sent a messenger to demand that they explain their actions. But when the messenger arrived in Gotham he found the town was full of lunatics who were engaged in foolish activities such as drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in roofless fences (though, of course, their foolery was all an act). The King fell for the ruse and declared the town too foolish to warrant punishment. And ever since then, April Fool's Day has supposedly commemmorated their trickery.

Anthropological Explanations
Anthropologists and cultural historians provide their own explanations for the rise of April Fool's Day. According to them, the celebration traces its roots back to festivals marking the Vernal Equinox, or Springtime.

Spring is the time of year when the weather becomes fickle, as if Nature is playing tricks on man, and festivals occurring during the Spring (such as May Day) traditionally mirrored this sense of whimsy and surprise. They often involved temporary inversions of the social order. Rules were suspended. Normal behavior no longer governed during the brief moment of transition as the old world died and the new cycle of seasons was born. Raucous partying, trickery, and the turning upside down of status expectations were all allowed. Slaves ruled their masters. Children played tricks on their parents.

The linkage between April Foolery and the Springtime is seen in another story that traces the origin of the custom back to the abundance of fish to be found in French streams and rivers during early April when the young fish had just hatched. These young fish were easy to fool with a hook and lure. Therefore, the French called them 'Poisson d'Avril' or 'April Fish.' Soon it became customary (according to this origin theory) to fool people on April 1, as a way of celebrating the abundance of foolish fish. The French still use the term 'Poisson d'Avril' to describe the unfortunate victims of April Fool's Day pranks. They also observe the custom of giving each other chocolate fish on April 1.

Anthropologists note that Spring celebrations of misrule and mayhem, such as April Fool's Day, which would appear at first glance to undermine social values of order and stability, paradoxically actually help to reaffirm these values. The celebrations act as a safety valve, giving people a chance to vent their social antagonisms in a harmless way. In addition, they give people a chance to temporarily step outside of accepted rules of behavior. People can then choose either to voluntarily return to a state of order, thereby reaffirming society's values, or to remain in a state of anarchy.

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