Will we all wake up as “April Fish?”

Today is the first of April, traditionally a time when we are allowed to play jokes on people and generally test their gullibility.  When I was child we used to think this was great fun and even used to buy tricks from the joke store sometimes to use. It wasn’t always a great success for the prankster though and I do recall overstepping the mark by embedding some sort of tiny combustible device in one of my father’s cigarettes designed to make it sputter, and him not being best pleased with the outcome.

April Fools’ Day (or All Fools’ Day) has a mysterious origin, although it has been celebrated for centuries as some form of collective “release” as Spring opens up.

One line of speculation is that this tradition of fooling one’s friends seems to originate in 1582 when Catholic France switched from the old Julian calendar to the modern (and more accurate) Gregorian calendar, in accordance with the papal bull Inter gravissimas. This involved a reset of the days to catch up but also changed the way that the new year was celebrated, being moved to January 1st from the older “start of Spring” on April 1st. Back in those pre-internet (or electricity, or any other form of rapid non-word of mouth communication) there were delays in this message being spread across the nation and so, the story goes, some people maintained “the old ways” and were subsequently rewarded by their more enlightened friends by having fun poked at them, having paper fish attached to their backs and being called April fish (“poisson d’Avril”).

Others speculate that April Fool’s activities are tied to the Roman Spring festival of Hilaria (from the same root as the term hilarious), which legitimized a sort of “anything goes” celebration for a day, including dressing up in masks, playing tricks and, by the sound of it, having a right raucous time with little to no consequences to one’s actions!

Now, all this being said, I cannot but think with recent events playing out in the US media over the last few months, that we must be coming to a head with one of the most prolonged running jokes of all time: the Donald as a serious contender to be president for the United States of America.

Surely today will be the day when he opens a press conference by shouting “April Fools!” in his inimitable manner?


Restored and modified illustration from Puck magazine, 1912

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