Archive for the ‘April Fool’ Tag

All Fools – Origins, 450 years ago this year!   5 comments

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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.

 Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1760

All Fools’ or April Fools’ Day celebrates its 450th Anniversary this year, since it began in France in 1564. The name, given to the first of April, refers to the custom of playing tricks on other people or sending them off on ‘fools’ errands’. It appears to owe its origins to the ‘vernal equinox’ or beginning of Spring, since April 1st used to be New Year’s Day until 1564 in France. Then King Charles IX decided to change this to 1 January. However, the change in the calendar wasn’t followed until the seventeenth century in Britain, and there used to be some confusion among historians about events that happened before it was adopted, like the execution of Charles I in 1648, or was that 1649?!  Then the cards and gifts that used to be given out on the day were transferred to January 1st. However, not everybody went along with this change, and continued to celebrate in April, as they still do in some countries, including Afghanistan.

It then continued as a joke in England, with mock gifts and cards being sent, becoming customary in the eighteenth century. Since, as New Year’s Day, it had been an unofficial half-day holiday, with workers expected to report for work at mid-day, this was also the time when all the fooling around had to stop. Hence the need to play the trick or make the joke before 12. In Scotland the fooling is sometimes referred to as ‘hunting the gowk’ or cuckoo, and April Fools were known as ‘April Gowks’.

The ‘silly season’ lasts from midnight to midday on 1st, and the object is to make the victim feel a little uncomfortable and sometimes to send him or her on a fool’s errand. Children might be sent to buy pots of striped paint, for example! Some people play little jokes on their friends and family; perhaps they change the clocks (though this won’t work in 2014, since the clocks are changing anyway at midnight!), or they put salt in the sugar bowl so someone’s tea tastes terrible. With the advent of radio, TV and now social media, some try to play tricks on thousands or even millions of people on this day.  More ambitious, contrived errands have been recorded, such as in 1860 when a large number of people received invitations to a reception at the Tower of London – ‘To admit bearer and friend to view the annual ceremony of washing the white lions’. Many people attended, apparently! Today, some people play little jokes on their friends and family

One of the great hoaxes of all time which involved millions of TV viewers was Richard Dimbleby‘s BBC report about the spaghetti harvest in Italy in 1957.  Dimbleby was taken very seriously as a broadcaster, having commentated on the end of the War in Europe and the Coronation among many other national and international events. In 1957, not many people ate spaghetti in Britain, and very few people knew much about it. The film showed long strips of spaghetti being collected by farm workers from the trees and put in the sun to dry. Dimbleby reported that the following autumn’s crop was threatened by a rare fungal disease! Many thousands phoned in offering to donate to a famine fund.

In 1998 a ‘new hamburger’ was launched on the US market by Burger King. This was a left-handed hamburger! Thousands of extra people went to Burger King to get one, and many more insisted on having the traditional right-handed one! In 2005 another British TV programme informed people about ‘fruitshakes’, a new milk drink straight from the cow. The cows were given fruit to eat and they then produced milk which tasted of fruit! Every year there are new jokes – on TV, in the newspapers, and on the radio. Every year millions of people ‘fall for’ these jokes and tricks.

However, it’s important to remember that, at twelve noon, all is over, and any trick played after that falls back on the head of the jester. In these circumstances, the proposed victim uses the age-old formula:

April Fools’ Day’s past and gone,

You’re the Fool and I am none.

Fools are not always figures of fun, however, especially when you consider those in Shakespeare’s plays.  Touchstone in As You Like It  is no fool with his ‘great heap of knowledge’. The Fool is always a victim, only funny up to a point. Religious fools run right through the literary tradition in English, from the medieval Everyman’s  ‘Five Wits’ through to Jesus and his disciples in Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell, in which even Judas is portrayed as a clown, perhaps the saddest of all. Even pop songs refer to ‘the Tears of a Clown‘.

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