To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Fool's Day

Everybody loves April Fool's Day. Personally, I love it because it's my uncle Johnny's birthday. Everybody say 'Happy birthday, Danielle's Uncle John!'

I've gotten off topic. Let me start again. Everyone mischievous loves April Fool's Day. It is the one day a year (other than Halloween) where pranking your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers is socially accepted and even laudable. But where did this very odd holiday come from?

Well. There's no real answer to this one. Here's a few options.

In 1392, Chaucer wrote 'The Canterbury Tales'. In the 'Nun's Priest's Tale' (a tale about two foolish fools), a vain cock called Chauntecler is tricked by a fox when "March bigan thritty dayes and two" - a statement which some take to mean April 1 or March 32nd. However, most Chaucer scholars take the quote to mean 'thirty two days after March', which would, in fact, be May 2nd - the anniversary of Richard II's engagement to Anne of Bohemia. Either makes about the same amount of sense to me.

In 1508, a french poet - Eloy d'Amerval - wrote a poem entitled "Le Livre de la Deablerie"(trans. The Book of Mischief) in which Satan and Lucifer have a chat about their wickedness and laud each other on their mutual evil deeds. The poem includes the line "maquereau infame de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d'avril," which according to my translation means to "the man who prays is a loathesome mackerel [could be slang for pimp] and the woman who prays is an April fish." [If I got that wrong, please let me know, but that's what my internal French compass guided me to.] The term 'April fish' is the french term for 'April fool' (Don't give me that look. They call each other potatoes on the freeway!), but whether Eloy was talking about April 1st or not could be anyone's guess.

In 1539, Eduard de Dene (a Flemish writer) published a comical poem called "Refereyn vp verzendekens dach Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach." I know. I laughed too. This translates, according to the internet, to "Refrain on errand-day which is the first of April". Judging from the poem's description, it sounds more like the plot to a commedia dell'arte play than a poem, but here you are: a nobleman hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st. And ends with the line "I am afraid that you are trying to make me run a fool's errand." [This information comes from the Museum of Hoaxes, if you're curious.] Whether he intended it or not, it does look like Eduard has the first solid reference to April 1st pranks in literature. Congratulations, Eddie!

There is a legend that the Duke of Lorraine and his wife used the tradition of April 1st to their advantage by disguising themselves as peasants and escaping their prison at Nantes in the guise of peasants. When people saw them and recognized them and rushed to tell the guards, the guards simply shrugged assuming this was an April Fool's joke.

The first historical note on April Fool's Day as a holiday is noted in John Aubrey's "Remains of Gentilism and Judaism", written in 1686 - "Fooles holy day. We observe it on ye first of April. And so it is kept in Germany everywhere." And so it was.

And so it is. Now if only I were better at sneaky pranks. Hmm....


  1. Happy Birthday to your uncle!! :)

  2. Happy birthday to your uncle!