Sunday, April 1, 2012

The origins of April Fools Day

Have you been tricked this day by a prank or joke? Maybe you recall some famous tricks in the past. The BBC once broadcast a documentary of farmers in Italy picking spaghetti from bushes and trees after a bumper harvest. Thousands were tricked. In the USA Taco Bell announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell.

When though did this tradition start?

The suggestion, recorded in The Country Diary of Garden Lore, is that 1st April was the day that Noah sent a rook out looking for land as the flood waters subsided but where that comes from I cannot find out.

One explanation links it to ancient festivals such as the Roman Hilaria, celebrated at the end of March when people would dress up in disguises. There are theories that this time of year with its variable weather - sometimes cold, sometimes hot tricks men and makes us fools.

A more substantial explanation related to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. This changed the start of the year from the last week of March/ 1st April as it used to be to January 1. because it took a while for this fact to becomes known and accepted people who celebrated the new year on 1st April were ridiculed. A paper fish called a "poisson d'avril" would be stuck to their backs to show they were fools. This is still part of present day French culture as shown in this satirical image:

In England the celebration came in about 1700 becoming more popular as the century went on. Britain changed calendars in 1752 themselves, which may have encouraged the tradition. The Scots celebrated a two day event (how come they often manage to get two days out of something we English get one day from!) Hunting the gowk day involved sending folk on wild goose chases or false errands, whilst Tailie Day involved pinning tails or notices to peoples backsides.

This morning my father recreated the spaghetti hoax in a picture he emailed me to show my son:

Did you think up any good ones today? Or were you the butt of an April fool?

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