This is no joke. The calendar says it is April Fools Day. The weather report confirms it.T.S. Elliot’s famous poem The Wasteland describes the situation this way:
APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Weather forecasts underscore April’s cruelty: Unseasonable heat caused California’s famous poppy bloom to fall asleep, just as the Wicked Witch of the West predicted; Unseasonable cold killed Vermont’s legendary Lake Champlain Monster, claims one Vermont news source; Unseasonable cold weather has set records in four West Virginia cities. It is as if Mother Nature is playing a cruel joke on us.
But what is the deal with all this joking in April? We understand foolishness, April is the beginning of Spring, the season of love and love can turn us all into fools. But what of the Day? Why do we have April Fools Day?
There are a couple explanations. The first is that before the 16th century, New Year’s Day was celebrated on April 1st, which makes total sense as this is pretty much the beginning of the agricultural year. Things are growing – life begins in the Spring. But in 1583 Pope Gregory XIII, of Gregorian Calendar fame, moved New Year’s Day from April 1st to January 1st. The move had to do with Easter – a celebration that was initially tied to the spring equinox. There were also some debates about the length of the year, the debate was over a matter of minutes. The new calendar became a pretty big deal – adopted initially by all of the Christian countries of Europe and eventually by everybody for the sake of convenience in international trade.
Back in the day, the 16th Century day, those people who continued to celebrate the new year in April were considered fools.
NewHistorian.com sites some other possible origins:
There are other theories about the beginnings of April Fools’ Day which trace its origins to before the switch in calendars. Some suggest its foundations actually came from various pagan traditions connected to the start of Spring. In particular, they draw attention to the Roman festival of Hilaria, a day of celebration in the Isis-Osiris cult. Part of a month of festivities in March that were focused on the life of Attis, the son and lover of Cybele, the day of Hilaria brought the festival to a close with a day of rejoicing for Attis’ resurrection. Even though the Roman celebration did not occur on 1st April, (the day of Hilaria was actually on 25th March) it contained hints of the rituals associated with modern April Fools’ – practical jokes and fancy dress. There were other pagan festivals which took place to celebrate the start of Spring, many of which were also based on humour and deceptive fancy dress. (http://www.newhistorian.com/origin-of-april-fools-day/3399/)
Hilaria sounds pretty good. But a month of festivities! We’d be at wit’s end!
image attribution: By Flickr user baejaar (Dheepak Ra) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons