Don’t let Mother Nature fool you. She can take a joke.
She was, perhaps, the original jokester, fooling us with species such as “false albacore” and “false foxglove,” and fooling us at this time of the year with crazy and variable weather. From snowstorms to sunny skies, anything is possible in April.
Maybe that’s why April leads off with a day of fools. The origins of April Fool’s Day may surprise you. Nature played a role.
Consider that almost all cultures celebrate the change of the season from winter to spring, usually during the time of the vernal equinox. These festivals, called renewal festivals, honored the new year, which was in many cultures the beginning of spring. During these renewal festivals, generally held this time of the year, mayhem, inversion of social order, pranks, disguises and other types of chaos were the order of the day.
Parties were varied, but many contained similar themes. In medieval times, Festus Fatuorum or the Feast of Fools allowed a “Lord of Misrule” to parody the Church (which was not at all amused at the blasphemy). Romans celebrated the Festival of Hilaria, or Roman Laughing Day, which honored the resurrection of Attis, son of Great Mother Cybele. During this day of revelry, participants donned masks and made merry. Hindus had their own spring season holiday called Holi, in which celebrants threw water and colored powder at each other.
In northern Europe, the Festival of Lud honored the Celtic god of humor, and the French called their foolish day Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. During this francophone holiday, paper fish were stuck on the backs of the fooled to insinuate that they are easily tricked, like young fish that were easily caught due to their inexperience.
The fool changed in name throughout cultures. Brits named him or her ‘gobs’ or called them a ‘noodle’ — and they call the day “All Fools’ Day” rather than “April Fool’s Day.” The Scots called their victim a ‘gouk,’ which translates to cuckoo. No matter the name of the dupe, the trickster would be wise to perpetrate the joke before noon on April 1st or else bad luck will befall them also.
There is another story of the origin of April Fool’s Day. It is believed that the change in the new year celebration from January to April can be traced back to a calendar calamity. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII replaced the old Julian calendar with the new Gregorian calendar. This shifted the new year from January to April. Due to lack of telecommunication, many folks did not hear of this change or refused to adhere to the new edict. Those that did not modify their calendar were called fools and many jokes and tricks were played on them.
No matter if you trick your neighbors or play jokes on your friends and family, don’t make a fool of yourself this spring. An Arabian proverb can be your guide to avoiding the traps of the foolish:
“A fool may be known by six things:
Anger without cause;
Speech without profit;
Change without progress;
Inquiry without object;
Putting trust in a stranger; and
Mistaking foes for friends.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.