April Fools’ Day: Worldwide Observance, Deep Roots

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It’s not an April Fools’ prank that I’m going to devote this column to April Fools’ Day when it’s already past. The day is one of my favorite times of the year, although having been a public school teacher, it always contained certain challenges — think tacks on teacher’s chair or, worse, water. I beg your indulgence while I explore the historical significance of, truly, one of the most noteworthy observances of the year.

Also known as All Fools’ Day, it is 24 hours devoted to hilarity and pranks and has no official start date, but three main theories are widely accepted. 

The most popular theory is that the day developed when France officially switched from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, which moved the beginning of the year from April 1 (spring = new beginnings) to January 1. Those who were slow to get the message via government postings or were defiant non-believers were deemed “April fools” and became the butt of jokes. People secretly placed paper fish on their backs and called them “poisson d’avril” (April fish), which symbolized a young or gullible person. Of course, nowadays the fish have morphed into “Kick me” messages.

Historians also theorize the day could be linked to the ancient Roman festival of “Hilaria” observed by followers of the goddess Cybele. During the week-long festivities culminating on April 1, believers disguised themselves in masks and costumes and mocked others – including government officials. (Thus, the disguises. After all, those were the days of thumbs up-thumbs down executions!)

A third belief places the roots of All Fools’ Day squarely in the lap of Mother Nature. Close to the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, people who had no sure way to predict the weather were often fooled by rapidly changing skies.

These days, pranks have grown popular in the media. One of the most famous modern-day pranks was perpetrated in 1957 by a British news broadcaster who told his audience that a region of Switzerland had enjoyed an especially bountiful spaghetti crop that year, complete with film footage of people picking spaghetti out of trees. At the time, pasta wasn’t commonly served in Britain, so some more aware viewers were upset that an obviously fictional story was aired. Others, however, inundated the network with questions on how they could grow their own spaghetti at home.

April’s Second Saturday Social on April 13 at the Baugh House (44th and Robb, 10:00-2:00) will celebrate Earth Day with information on Wheat Ridge’s Sustainability program. Organizers plan a plant exchange, so bring seedlings and increase your garden’s variety. The event is sponsored by Fruitdale Farm, a small family farm in Wheat Ridge with a focus on flowers. Check them out this summer for a fun activity of building your own locally-grown bouquet! You might also be able to pick up eggs, fruit and herbs. The season usually runs July–October. Dates and further information on their website: www.FruitdaleFarmCO.com

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