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April Fool’s Day...

Today is April 1. It’s called April Fool’s Day and many use the day to fool others. Let’s see the origin of this special day.
The origin of April Fool’s Day still is not really known. Basically no one knows exactly where, when, or why the celebration began. What we do know is that references to ‘All Fool’s Day’ (what April Fool’s Day was first called) began to appear in Europe during the late Middle Ages.
All Fool’s Day was a folk celebration and elite participation in it was minimal (which is why it is so 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). But what is clear is, that the tradition of a day devoted to foolery has ancient roots. As we look back in time we find many ancient predecessors of April Fool’s Day.

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 and general merry-making. 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 honoured 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 colour, 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 honour 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, merry makers 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: multicoloured robe, horned hat, and sceptre and bauble.

Gotham
British folklore links 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 placed his foot upon to become public property. So when the citizens of Gotham heard that King John planned to travel through their town, they refused him entry, not wishing to lose their main road. When the King heard this, he sent soldiers to the town. But when the soldiers arrived in Gotham, they found the town full of lunatics engaged in foolish activities such as drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in roofless fences. Their foolery was all an act, but 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.

The Calendar-Change Theory
The most widespread theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the Gregorian calendar reform of the late 6th Century.
The theory goes like this: In 1582 France became the first country to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar established by the Council of Trent (1563). This switch meant, among other things, that the beginning of the year was moved from the end of March to January 1. Those who failed to keep up with the change, and stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th (known in England as Lady Day) and April 1st, had various jokes played on them. For instance, pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were given the epithet Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. Thus, April Fool’s Day was born.
The calendar change hypothesis might provide a reason for why April 1st specifically became the date of the modern holiday. But it is clear that the idea of a springtime festival honoring misrule and mayhem had far more ancient roots. In addition, the process by which the observance of the day spread from France to protestant countries such as Germany, Scotland, and England is left unexplained by this theory. These nations only adopted the calendar change during the eighteenth century, at a time when the tradition of April Foolery had already been well established throughout Europe.

Worst April Fool’s Day hoaxes
The Dead Dog:
The film National Lampoon’s Vacation includes a scene in which Chevy Chase ties a dog to the bumper of his car, then forgets the dog is there and drives away. Inspired by this scene, Paul Goobie tied a dead chihuahua to the bumper of his co-worker’s car. His co-worker, Kevin Meloy, got in the car and drove off, unaware that the chihuahua was there. Obviously passing motorists were horrified. But what made the situation even worse was that Meloy was deaf, so he couldn’t hear the other motorists frantically honking at him. Happily he drove on for miles until finally someone was able to get his attention. Police charged Goobie with unlawful disposal of a dead animal.

Releasing the Prisoners
Imagine reading that your husband or brother who has been held in a squalid Romanian prison for years is finally going to be released. You make the long journey to the prison and stand outside the prison gates, waiting desperately for the moment you’ll be reunited with your loved one, only to hear -’April Fools! No one’s being released!’ This experience happened to 60 people in April 2000 who read in the Opinia newspaper that their loved ones were going to be released from the Baia Mare prison in Romania. They made the long journey to the prison, only to learn that the paper had played an April Fool’s joke on them. The Opinia later published an apology.

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