Well, were you “had” on the first of April? It was April Fool’s Day and of all the occasions celebrated either here or internationally – it is a world-wide phenomenon – this one is the most mysterious of all as nobody knows exactly why that particular date was chosen or what exactly the reason for it is. The tradition of making fools of people may not be as strong now as it was in the past but it certainly has not gone away completely although there may well be a body of opinion that would love to see it happen.
Most of us have either fooled or been fooled, most probably both, over the years and while it is, in the main, a harmless bit of fun it also has the potential to cause pain, hurt or embarrassment. It has sometimes led to great annoyance and even arguments or vendettas that could take years to solve if the victim was sensitive or awkward. It all should happen before Twelve Noon when a truce is usually declared and by then most people are alert to the danger anyway.
My own experiences with the April Fool custom started with gentle ribbing from siblings and I was only too glad to see the funny side of it. So much so in fact that I once thought it would be a good idea to take it a stage further and spread a little happiness in the neighbourhood. I went inform an elderly neighbour of the hilarious news that one of his calves was in a drain and had “drownded.” Luckily I was able to refrain from laughing while arming him with that valuable information.
Muttering a torrent of strange words that I had never heard before, much less understood, he sprang to his feet- if the word sprang can be applied to the actions of a man in his eighties – and demanded to know the exact whereabouts of the deceased animal. After walking about fifty yards with him I sensed that the jocularity of the occasion might have been a wildly optimistic assumption on my part so I decided to test his sense of humour with the amusing statement, “aah I’m only coddin. April Fool.”
Again I heard the same torrent of words – they were now directed at me – as he lumbered towards me with a wild look in his eye while brandishing his camog (walking stick) in a very intimidating manner. An innate primeval instinct that had been evolving in humans since the time when we lived in caves told me to run like the clappers and that is exactly what I did. If I knew then what I know now I could have riposted that he was factually incorrect in his claims about my background and that not only were my parents married when I was born, they had even tied the knot before I was conceived.
I avoided the same man until a suitable time had elapsed and he was able to recount the incident without fear of apoplexy. A lovely, gentle creature he has long since gone to his eternal reward and I hope he had forgiven me before he embarked on that last great journey. The escapade did teach me to be more selective about fooling people on the first day of April and you would assume that it was purely an activity for the young or the immature of mind. The principle involved, if indeed there is one, sounds very childish but it is regularly practised at all levels of society and in all positions on the Mensa scale. Media people are especially fascinated by the attraction of tricking readers, viewers and listeners. Probably because they often have a captive audience.
There are many versions of the reasoning behind the annual habit of celebrating this feast of foolery. One thing we do know for sure about that day is that it certainly is not Irish in concept although we do mark the occasion here. Mind you some writers feel that it could be based on an old Celtic – though not necessarily Irish – ritual and the late Padraic O’Farrell, a noted writer on old traditions and folklore, suggests that Lud, the god of merriment in Celtic mythology could be linked with the practice. He also mentions the lines often quoted by the prankster to the victim.
“April Fool is dead and gone;
You’re the fool that carried it on.”
Another teasing rhyme goes:
“Two potatoes in the pot
You’re the fool and I am not.”
Our neighbours in Scotland have their own interpretation of it in the form of April Gowk which can mean the day of a fool or of a cuckoo. According to the writer George Justice the cuckoo was said to be the emblem of simpletons or fools as the arrival of that bird in Ireland and Britain in early April coincided with a temporary release of lunatic asylum inmates around that time. Others claim that the tradition is a legacy from the old Roman feast of Cerealia, held at the beginning of the same month. This was to commemorate the fruitless journey of the goddess Ceres who, on hearing the screams of her kidnapped daughter Proserpina, went looking for her and her abductor Pluto in the underworld. On failing to locate them she felt that she had been fooled.
There are other theories too as to how it all started. One claims that the day is close to the end of March and the Vernal Equinox, a time when the weather usually changes for the better with people being at least surprised if not actually fooled by it. Their mood then improves and this sudden feeling of well being could put them in the humour for devilment, jesting, teasing – call it what you will- of family, friends and foes alike.
The most widely accepted explanation lies with the French. In 1582 King Charles IV decreed that a new calendar be adopted making January 1, New Year’s Day instead of April 1 as it had been according to the Julian calendar that had been in use since the time of Caesar. (Others claim that March 25, the advent of spring, was the real commencement of the New Year). Regardless, the King and his advisers decided to drop some days, possibly as many as ten, from the existing year and to start afresh with the new Gregorian calendar in line with the Papal Bull of Pope Gregory XIII.
Not surprisingly, especially in a time of very poor communication methods the revolutionary move took many people by surprise and so incredulous were they of the change that they were reluctant to believe it. Many didn’t and became the butt of jokes and tricks. They were branded a Poisson d’Avril (April Fish). Consequently a habit of pinning fish shaped pieces of paper on to people’s backs started- nobody knows why it should involve a fish- and the longer the paper stayed in position the better the joke. When the unfortunate victim realised what had happened he or she would be taunted with the words “poisson d’Avril.”
Other parts of the world have their own version of the April Fool’s or All Fool’s Day. The Indian province of Hindustan has a festival of Huli that is remarkably like ours. Writer Martyn Baguley points out that “on March 31st people from all stations in life send others on errands that have no real purpose other than to cause the sender some laughter at the expense of the one sent.” He also tells us that Mexico has an April Fools type day that ironically is now celebrated on December 28. That of course is the day designated to commemorate the slaughter of the innocent children by King Herod. Indeed it is still marked as such by most countries throughout the world.
Today’s younger generation might deem themselves too sophisticated to indulge in the trivial pursuits of bygone days of course but if they did they would probably give the practice a modern twist. You might well be lured to the phone with the puzzling message that “NAMA want to talk about your haircut” or “its an instruction from your broker, she says to sell quickly, Pepsi Cola is going bankrupt tonight.” Equally strange would be the news “it’s the local Head Shop. They’re having a 24-four hour sale with twenty per cent off everything.” The coolest of dudes will tell you that even tradition can move with the times.