The Legend of April Fools’ Day
Posted On Apr 01, 2016
Today we embark on a day of careless office pranks and media trickery in celebration of America’s worst holiday ever, April Fool’s day. It’s mostly an annoying day, one mostly of cheap jokes, but props to anyone who has pulled off a good, clean, clever one. With the exception of Taco Bell stating they bought the Liberty Bell and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell,” aggravating about a million Philadelphians in 1996, what have we actually accomplished on this day? How did we get here America?
In an interview with Alex Boese, curator of the online Museum of Hoaxes, he says, “You can blame the Dutch, who first referenced April Fools’ in a 16th-century text, or the French, who overhauled their annual calendar in the 1500s, confusing ‘‘fools’’ who didn’t adapt. Or maybe the U.K., home of the first April Fools’ Day prank on record, or Germany, which popularized fake April Fools’ news stories.”
One story from the ancient Romans lends us a viable explanation: Renewal Festivals!
Anthropologists have dubbed “renewal festivals” as a way to celebrate spring in a cheerful manner which typically involved some sort of organized mayhem. People would play pranks on friends, wear disguises, or somehow reverse the social order. Servants giving orders to masters, or children challenging their parents’ authority.
One of the oldest versions of renewal festivals was the Roman festival of “Hilaria.” Across the Roman Empire, the festival was celebrated on March 25, to commemorate the resurrection of the Roman god Attis. The festival, which coincided with the spring equinox, invited Romans to rejoice; games, pranks, and masquerades were common.
Other scholars have also associated the holiday with the Hindu festival of Holi and the medieval Feast of Fools. The Feast of Fools was celebrated in the same parts of Europe where the first traces of April Fools’ can be found. All of this suggests that playing harmless pranks in the spring has a long, cross-cultural history.
It’s not 100% clear where and when this silly holiday started and its origin may always remain a mystery. What is clear is that an Australian police department arming sniffer pigs instead of dogs to sniff out crime across the island – is a winner.
Turns out this cheesy, whoopee-cushion blaring day isn’t so bad after all… A day devoted to laughing is a good day in my book.
Cover Photo Credit: Shutterstock