Today’s the last day of March and this is always a sure sign that April Fools Day isn’t too far away. It is a day beloved of practical jokers and hopefully, because of the current economic climate, tomorrow will be no different. We’ve already had a bit of practice in Ireland in recent weeks, but not everyone joined in the fun. My own reaction to the incident has changed somewhat since I posted it, and can be read in the responses at the end of that post.
But, how did the first of April come to be known as April Fools Day and when did the practice of playing jokes on each other begin? Well, the simple answer is – there is no simple answer. There are a number of theories that have been put forward over the years, but none of these can be substantiated. While trawling through the Net for information I came across a site with the rather authoritative title of The Museum of Hoaxes. This site is no joke and, lo and behold, it contains a page that discusses the debate surrounding the origins of April Fools Day. My favourite theory concerns the people of France, fish and their changing of the calendar in the sixteenth century. They put it quite well, so here is what the museum people have to say in their own words:
In 1564 France reformed its calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Those who failed to keep up with the change, who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so the tradition was born.
This is certainly a great story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be true. The writers go on to chronicle the confusion and inconsistency that led to how calendars were put together all over Europe at that time. It claims that these changes had been gradually occurring in France during the preceding century and this makes it unlikely that this is where the origins of the day begin. The article goes on to look at possible literary origins for April Fools Day beginning with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 14th century, as well as in other works of poetry and prose over the following centuries. Again, none of these offer any proof as to how April 1st came to be known as Fools Day.
Whatever its origins, you can be sure that newspapers and the TV news will throw in a few stories that possess even less truth than normal. To get you in the mood, I’ve put together a few songs that celebrate fools and jokers. Remember, practical joking and tomfoolery are not just for April Fools Day. They’re for the whole year
I first came upon Sister Josephine by Jake Thackray when it was chosen by The Guardian as one of that week’s picks in their Readers Recommend series. Sister Josephine is not a practical joker, but the singer tells us that Josephine is “a bloody funny nun”. Josephine is very different to the other sisters and, while this becomes very clear to the listener at an early stage, poor old Jake can’t quite seem to put his finger on what that difference is. Josephine certainly fools all the other nuns as well as Jake, but doesn’t manage to fool the police. A very funny song that was first released in 1972
In a fair world, Dublin’s Power of Dreams would have been bigger than U2. Unfortunately, Ireland’s version of the Walker brothers, Keith and Craig, only made three albums in the early 90s. They received a lot of critical acclaim and a little commercial success, but they haven’t been heard from in over a decade. The Joke’s on Me is the opening track on their wonderful debut album, Immigrants, Emigrants and Me (1990)
The dodo was a flightless bird found on the island of Mauritius until it became extinct sometime in the latter half of the 17th century. I saw a stuffed dodo when I once visited the British Museum and I remember that it made me feel quite melancholy, despite the fact that the bird has a comical look. The Dodos are an American duo composed of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber. Fools appears on their album, Visiter (2008), and was released as a single in the same year. It doesn’t make me feel melancholy