Don’t be a Fool

Today marks a holiday I have always thought of as a bit unnecessary and foolish. After all, I am already a fool by nature, so why should there be a day designated toward such a mentality? By digging deeper into the history and origin of April Fool’s Day, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of information, legends, and, of course, references to the top 100 April Fool’s pranks of all time. Unfortunately, none of them occurred here at Colgate. But let’s start with the basics.Webster’s Dictionary offers several definitions for “fool.” My favorite: “a person deficient in intellect, one who acts absurdly, or pursues a course contrary to the dictates of wisdom, one without judgment; a simpleton; a dolt.” However, an April Fool is defined as: “One who is sportively imposed upon by others on the first day of April.” Certainly, the latter designation is not as ridiculous, right?Unlike most other traditional, non-foolish holidays, the history of April Fool’s Day – sometimes called All Fool’s Day – is quite uncertain and obscure. Basically, no one seems to know exactly where, when or why the celebration began. But what we do know is that references to All Fool’s Day began to appear in Europe during the late Middle Ages as a folk celebration few people participated in. Still, others argue that the holiday had much more ancient roots. The most widespread theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the Gregorian calendar reform of the late sixteenth century. Though popular, this theory has a number of problems when given a closer look.According to this theory, in 1582, France became the first country to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar established by the Council of Trent of 1563. This switch meant, among other details, that the beginning of the year was moved from the end of March to January 1. Those who refused to acknowledge the new date or simply forgot about the new calendar received foolish gifts and invitations to non-existent parties. Additional jokes were also played on them. For example, pranksters would secretly 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 sufficient reason for why April 1st became the date of the modern holiday. Clearly, however, 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 England, Germany and Scotland, 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. Finally, it is not clear what – if any – first-hand accounts support the theory. The direct correlation between the calendar change and April 1st appears to be based on modern speculation, rather than archival research. Therefore, while the theory remains a possibility, it should not be treated as a fact, at least for the time being.Eventually, the harassment afforded to the aforementioned stubborn “calendar-rejecters” in France evolved, and a custom of prank-playing continued on the first day of April. This tradition eventually spread to England and Scotland in the eighteenth century. The French and English introduced it to the American colonies. Consequently, April Fool’s Day has taken on an international flavor, as each country celebrates April 1st in its own unique fashion. Here are some ways the holiday is celebrated around the world:• England: Jokes are played only in the morning. Fools are called “gobs” or “gobby,” and the victim of a joke is called a “noodle.” It is still considered bad luck to play a practical joke on someone after 12 p.m.• India: The Holi Festival is celebrated in late March. Here, people play harmless jokes on one another and smear colors on each other celebrating the arrival of spring.• Portugal: April Fool’s Day falls on both the Sunday and Monday before Lent. In this celebration, many people throw flour at their friends.• Rome: Celebrated on March 25 and also referred to as “Roman Laughing Day,” the holiday is known here as the Festival of Hilaria. It honors the resurrection of the god Attis.• Scotland: Here, April Fool’s Day is devoted to spoofs involving the buttocks and is appropriately called “Taily Day.” The butts of these jokes are known as April “Gowk,” another name for the cuckoo bird. The origins of the “Kick Me” sign can be traced back to the Scottish observance.So, rest assured, even our abroad Colgate friends may have quite the “foolish” experience today. No matter where you happen to be in the world on April 1, do not be surprised if the April fools fall playfully on you. While simply a fun little holiday, today is also a day where you must remain forever vigilant to avoid being the next April Fool!