Jokers Wild –
April 1st, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day or All Fool’s Day, is a day dedicated to foolishness and hoaxes. Hopefully, the worst thing that can fall upon a hapless victim is a case of profound embarrassment. But beware! You might never know what hit you.
Several speculative view points, as to the origin to this innocent celebration, exist. The one constant is that this day is a relic of some vernal equinox which began on the 25th of March, the Situs Agen of the old New Year’s Day, and its culmination on the 2nd of April.
It has also been suggested that France was responsible for the introduction of April-fooling in Europe. By the decree of Charles IX, France was one of the first nations to make January 1st its official New Year’s Day, in 1564. The gifts and visits to friends that had been a feature of April 1st were then transferred to January 1st. Citizens who protested the change in dates, or had not become cognizant of the change, were fair game for those wags and bon vivants who were easily entertained by sending ersatz gifts on April 1st.
It was not until the dawning of the 18th century that participation in April 1st tomfoolery become a common practice.
The practice followed in Scotland was called “hunting the gowk” (the cuckoo) and April-fools were called “April-gowks,” the cuckoo regarded there as a term of disdain.
In France, fools were branded as “poisson d’avril” (fish of April) on the assumption that April fish were young fish and therefore easily caught, as a gullible or naive person might be. Originally, a dead fish was placed upon the back of the fool-to-be but that has been replaced by a paper cutout.
In England, it is an unwritten law that pranks are meant to be pulled only before 12 noon. The British call their fools “gobs” or “gobby” and the victim of a joke is called a “noodle.” Practical jokes committed after noon are considered to be bad luck.
The people of Rome, Italy celebrate the resurrection of the god Attis on March 25th. This day is called “Roman Laughing Day.”
The Portuguese celebrate April Fool’s Day the Sunday and Monday before Lent by throwing flour at their friends.
India celebrates the Huli Festival on March 31st. Jokes are played and colors smeared upon one another to celebrate the arrival of Spring.
Over time, innocent harassment evolved into a custom of prank playing on April 1st. After spreading to places such as Scotland and Britain in the 18th century, the tradition of prank-playing was introduced to the American colonies, leading to the holiday taking on an international flavor.
The very first record of an April Fool’s Day prank was printed in Drake’s News Letter in 1698. Londoners received cards inviting them to the Tower of London to view the washing of the lions on April 1st. The lions had been removed from the Tower previously, as was realized by the invitees to the bath. For many years, Londoners repeated this prank on gullible rural visitors.
In 1957, BBC television in London perpetrated a famous hoax. They insisted that the dreaded pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been conquered in Switzerland and it was now safe for the Swiss to harvest spaghetti from their trees. The BBC was inundated by callers wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees!
Not everyone enjoys being embarrassed on April Fool’s Day, no matter how innocent the prank. Aphrilophobia is the fear of April Fool’s Day. There are many phobias relating to the practices of the day which are considered social phobias because they involve some instance of public embarrassment or humiliation. These include:
Katagelophobia – fear of ridicule or embarrassment
Neophobia – fear of something new
Scopophobia – fear of being stared at
Ereuthophobia – fear of blushing
Mythophobia – fear of making a false statement
Traumatophobia – fear of being emotionally wounded or injured