A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that we’re not altogether certain about how April Fool’s Day came about. We just know it was scheduled for April.
And that it is . . . you know . . . foolish.
According to my crack research staff (uh, that would be me with a little bit too much time on my hands), the best guess on how the tradition started dates back to the late 1500’s when the Gregorian calendar was adopted. Prior to this time folks celebrated New Year’s during a big festival held from March 25 through April 1. But the new calendar required that New Year’s festivities be moved to January 1. As near as I can tell, most folks made the shift to the new date pretty easily – parade-planners, bowl game sponsors, Guy Lombardo, Dick Clark, everyone – except for a few obstinate Frenchmen who refused to abandon their spring celebration.
I know – it’s difficult to imagine stubborn, obstinate Frenchmen. But this is history.
You know – facts.
And history (or at least the “history” on the web sites I checked) clearly indicates that the stubborn, obstinate Frenchmen who refused to move their New Year’s Eve parties to Dec. 31 were roundly criticized for being “foolish.”
Now, you have to remember that this was a different time. Today we would find room on the calendar to accommodate all New Year’s celebrations, and it would be considered politically incorrect to ridicule anyone who chose celebrate New Year’s Day in the middle of the year (unless, of course, you had religious reasons for the choice, in which case it would be considered politically incorrect NOT to ridicule you – especially on TV and in the movies).
But this was back in the days of public pillories, drawing and quartering, being burned at the stake and that old French favorite, the guillotine. Being teased and taunted and called a fool was the medieval equivalent of singing “I Love You, You Love Me” with Barney the Dinosaur.
Only without the purple felt.
Over time, the teasing and name-calling evolved into a tradition of playing pranks and practical jokes on April 1st – and not just on the French. According to Mark Twain, “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”
I don’t know about that. But I do know that I’ve never really liked the whole notion of April Fool’s Day. And not just because I was always the guy who spent the entire day at school looking foolish because I had a “Kick Me” sign taped to my back. And it’s not because my Mom once made me look foolish when she took the sugar out of the sugar bowl and filled it with salt (but I got her back when that big, heaping spoonful of salty Corn Flakes made me throw up on the kitchen table). Nor is it because my wife, Anita, once made our children and me look foolish with some April Fool’s Day pancakes into which she had cooked a nice, round piece of cloth (you’ll never guess who was the last one to figure out that we weren’t really supposed to eat them. Yeah, that’s right – the big guy with cloth still wedged between his teeth).
So, OK – I’m gullible. I admit it. I want to believe, to trust, to rely, to accept. It’s my nature. Heaven knows, life naturally gives us enough reasons for doubt and mistrust. I don’t want to spend even one day of my life looking for ulterior motives in every person, every situation, every Corn Flake and every pancake.
Either that, or I’m just . . . you know . . . foolish. Like those stubborn, obstinate Frenchmen. In which case I must once again cite Twain: “Let us be thankful for the fools,” he said. “But for them the rest of us could not succeed.”
Even if I’m one of “them,” instead of one of “us.”
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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.