April Fools’ Day is one of the most light-hearted — and “dangerous” — days of the year. Its origins are uncertain. Some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it stems from the adoption of a new Gregorian Calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to replace the old Julian Calendar. According to a popular explanation, many people either refused to accept the new date, or did not learn about it, and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. Others make fun of these traditionalists, calling them “April Fools.”
Another explanation says the practice began during the reign of Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine, amused, allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, and the custom became an annual event. This explanation was brought to the public’s attention in an Associated Press (AP) article printed by many newspapers in 1983. There was only one catch: the whole thing reportedly was made up. It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize they’d been victims of an April Fools’ joke themselves.
Perhaps in revenge, some newspapers and magazines continue to report fake stories on April 1, which usually are explained the next day or below the news section in small letters.
Many different cultures throughout the Western world have days of foolishness around the start of April. Maybe there’s something about the time of year, with its turn from winter to spring, that lends itself to lighthearted celebrations. Practices include sending someone on a “fool’s errand,” looking for things that don’t exist; playing pranks; and getting people to believe ridiculous things. Those playing April Fool jokes expose their prank by shouting “April Fool!”
I remember leaving phone messages for colleagues at work to call a “A. Bear” at the Children Zoo’s telephone number. It was so gratifying to hear them ask to speak to “A. Bear” and be told by an experienced Zoo employee that all their bears were eating or sleeping at this time.
My wife, Marty, was masterful at pulling pranks on me. Once she reset all the clocks in the house and even in my car to send me off to work an hour early. I couldn’t understand why I felt so tired, why it was darker that morning than normal and why I couldn’t find my usual radio programs on the car radio. I realized I had been duped when I was the only one in the office. My phone was ringing, and knowing it was my wife attempting to say, “April Fool,” I went to the cafeteria for breakfast.
That’s just one prank she pulled on me over the years. I managed to get back at her and the cat once by placing a plastic poop on the living room rug. I enjoyed watching Marty trying to clean it up while scolding Susie at the same time.
But I lived dangerously one year when I tried to retaliate with a not well thought-out prank of my own. I called Marty early in the afternoon and asked what she had planned for dinner. I told her not to do anything extravagant but that I was bringing home a work associate from out of town who would appreciate a home-cooked meal. I arrived to find the table set with a tablecloth and our best china including wine glasses. When Marty, dressed nicely in an attractive outfit, asked where our guest was I proudly said, “April Fool. There’s no one coming!” I recall the meal I ate in silence was quite good, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.
So, how mischievous do you want to be on April 1? Go ahead, live dangerously. Plan something that will live on in infamy. But be prepared for the silent treatment.