April 1 is a light-hearted day of the year celebrated by practical jokes and hoaxes. Its origin is, however, shrouded in mystery. On this day, jokesters often expose their actions by shouting “April Fool” at the recipient. Some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons. For instance, the Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. This is the time of a year when winter turns to spring, lending itself to lighthearted celebrations. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis who was also a Phrygian god of vegetation. In his self-mutilation, death and resurrection he represents the fruits of the earth which die in winter only to rise again in the spring. Another narration is that “April fool” stemmed from the adoption of a new calendar. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new Gregorian Calendar to replace the old Julian Calendar.
The new calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on January 1. That year, France adopted the reformed calendar and shifted New Year’s day to January 1. People who were slow to get the news continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1, became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called “April fools.” There are however, at least two difficulties with this explanation. The first is that it doesn’t fully account for the spread of April Fools’ Day to other European countries. As for instance, the Gregorian calendar was not adopted by England until 1752, but April Fools’ Day was already well established there by that point.
The second is that there is no direct historical evidence for this explanation but it is only a conjecture that appears to have been made more recently. There are also speculations that April Fools’ Day is tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fools people with changing, unpredictable weather. In modern times, people have gone far more to celebrate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Even Newspapers, radio and TV stations and websites have taken part in the April 1 tradition by reporting outrageous fictional claims and fooling their audiences. As for instance, in 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop but it actually showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees.
Similarly in 1985, Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton tricked many readers when he ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour. In 1992, National Public Radio ran a spot with former President Richard Nixon saying he was running for president again. Later it was found that it was only an actor, not Nixon, and the segment was all an April Fools’ Day prank that caught the country by surprise. In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich. Google notoriously hosts an annual April Fools’ Day prank that has included everything from “telepathic search” to the ability to play Pac Man on Google Maps.
One particular narration for April Fools day that needs to be redressed and rectified is in remembrance of the day that Christians defeated the Muslims and swept them from power in lower Spain. The story goes that Christian army was unable to conquer the Muslims and therefore they sent spies who discovered that Muslims were focused and disciplined in their lives. To break this spirit, the tradition goes on saying that the Christians sent in alcohol and tobacco, which the Muslims became used to and lost their track of senses.
Meanwhile the Christian army invaded lower Spain and conquered the Muslims on the first of April and began celebrating April Fool’s Day ever since. Though the story carries a good moral lesson but the truth is that this story fails on account of facts. Firstly, it is a historical fact that Muslim rule in Spain ended on the 12th of January in the Christian year of 1492 A.D. April Fool’s Day was not heard of until over sixty years later. The most authentic reports according to Christian historical books such as Encyclopedia Britannica as well as many others trace the roots of the holiday back to 16th century France. Prior to the year 1582, the new year was celebrated for eight days, starting with the 25th of March. The celebration culminated on April 1st.
With the reform of the Christian calendar under King Charles IX, through the influence of Pope Gregory, the Gregorian calendar was introduced, and New Years Day was moved to the first of January. However, due to lack of communications in those days, many people did not receive the news for several years. Others, the most obstinate crowd, refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1. These reluctant people were classified as “fools” by the general public and were often subject to some ridicule.
Hence, the tradition of April Fool’s Day began. Second, we should admit the fact that tobacco products were not even invented by then. According to Roger N. Morrissette of the State College in Framingham, smoking of any kind did not exist in Spain until King Ferdinand of Spain had come to power. Tobacco use did not become widespread until the 19th century. So this story is also razed to ground with regard to origin of the “fools day”. Humour is making others act or talk absurdly and unconsciously but ridicule is pointing out that absurdity consciously with more or less evil intent and ill-nature.
According to a well known boxer, Muhammad Ali, “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world”. The reasoned and seasoned among us limit jokes, joke at appropriate times, and are cautious of joking. Whoever laughs too much or jokes too much loses respect, and whoever persists in doing something becomes known for it.
Dr. Qudsia Gani is Faculty (Physics), Govt. College for Women, M.A. Road Srinagar