Friday, April 1, 2016

The History of April Fool's Day

The idea of playing tricks in the springtime dates back many years, surprisingly with a rich history. 
In the Nun's Priest's Tales, Chaucer made the connection between April 1 and foolishness.  And that was 1392. 
Did you know that the French call April 1st Poisson d"AVril or April Fish?

As far back as the 1500s mischief makers poked fun at French conservatives and their steadfast attachment to the old tradition by sending them silly gifts and invitations to nonexistent parties. They would also stick paper fish to their backs, popularizing the French term for a person who gets duped on April Fools’ Day: "poisson d’Avril," or "April fish."

The idea seems to be a reference to the fact that fish are most plentiful and hungry during the spring. An "April fish" was easier to catch, i.e., more gullible, than a fish at any other time of the year. The fish image features prominently in artwork and postcards in France in the late 1800s to early 1900s. 
Although the idea playing pranks on April 1st is recognized worldwide, it is not considered a national holiday anywhere. 

In 1957, the BBC aired a documentary about the harvest of spaghetti crops in Switzerland, with footage of women picking strands of spaghetti.  This story managed to fool a lot of people, although it's hard to imagine anyone believing spaghetti grows on trees.  However, the documentary was narrated by a distinguished journalist giving it an air of credibility.
With the advent of the internet and social media, April Fool's day pranks are known to hit viral proportions, and fool or embarrass a wider audience.  Sadly in a time when everyone is offended by everything, even well-intentioned mischief has been labeled as a waste of time and resources often resulting in commercial and even legal consequence. 
We might all be better off if we took a cue from our ancestors and used this one day in the spring that was set aside for behaviors that are normally considered socially unacceptable to become temporarily socially acceptable.
They say laughter is good for the soul, and since Spring is considered a time of renewal, April 1 seems like a great time to approach life with a little light heartedness and laughter.  I think it's okay to have one day a year.  I don't think MR. T will pity us either. 

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