Tuesday, 1 April 2014

April Fools Day

Today is definitely a duvet day, until noon anyway - designated by me to avoid those pranks which were once such fun to play when I was a child. At school, we locked a perfectly nice art teacher in a cupboard once because we didn't have the nerve to do it to the Physics mistress. Now I have no patience for them and if anyone puts salt in my morning coffee or apple pie's my bed- they will experience the wrath of moi!

Some cultures say a day of foolishness signifies the beginning of spring, others that during ‘The Deluge’ Noah sent a dove to find land on April 1. Also that Jesus was sent from Pontius Pilate to Herod and back again - a fool's errand.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar designed to replace the Julian Calendar, and called for New Year's Day to be Jan. 1 and not the Feast of Annunciation at the end of March. Apparently many Europeans refused to accept the new date, and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1. Others made fun of the traditionalists, sending them on "fool's errands" a practice that spread throughout Europe.

This explanation doesn’t quite work as The Gregorian calendar wasn’t adopted in England until 1752, and April Fools' Day was already well established there by that point.

In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, [1392] Chaucer writes the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox. In 1508, French poet Eloy d'Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril [April fish], and in modern France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Canada, fish come into play in many pranks played. The main one being to attach a paper fish to someone’s back. Napoleon earned the nickname ‘Poisson d'Avril’ when he married Marie-Louise of Austria on April 1, 1810.

On April 1, 1698 in London, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to "see the Lions washed".

1770 Prank-Tying a kite to old man's wig
The playing of a joke is followed by calling out ‘April fool!’ at the recipient, seconds before the pranksters run for their lives to avoid the anger of the humiliated one. This only applies until noon, after which the prank reverts on the instigator and they become the April Fool – though in cases of ritual humiliation, dripping water or other substances I don’t see how that works!

Historically, in Scotland, pranks took a more structured form, in that the prankster asks someone to deliver a written and sealed message to someone else. When read, the note includes: "Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile". The Gowk [cuckoo] being the poor soul being sent round town showing the same message to everyone.

This morning the repeat of the 1957 prank known as the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest was broadcast showing a film of Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti. The BBC were inundated with requests for suppliers of the spaghetti plant. This started a tradition of clever pranks played on this day each year by the wits at the BBC and the press – so that’s my task for today – watching TV and reading the papers to see if I can spot this year’s offering.


Jane Jazz said...

Very timely and amusing post... I love the story about people being tricked into going to the Tower of London "to see the Lions washed"! Nice to see they had a sense of humour in 1698 :o)

Petrea Burchard said...

I wish I'd done that. I was duped and terribly embarrassed by it. The only way I can get retribution is to follow the blog that duped me!

Thanks for this wonderful history.