“Sometimes you play the role of a fool to fool the fools who thinks they are fooling you!”
Since childhood we are all familiar with that date —the first of April or All Fool’s Day as some like to call it. It’s probably the only day that celebrates ‘foolishness’ and expects us to play tricks and dupe our unsuspecting friends and acquaintances! One remembers how during school days you had to be on your guard for pranks and hoaxes. There would be gleeful intermittent shouts of “April Fool” whenever some unsuspecting victim fell for another’s ruse. Those were simpler times and the jokes were simple too ~ “Look the Principal is coming!” “There’s a spider on your dress!” “See my Mom kept chocolates for all of us in my tiffin today” ~ and there was always someone willing to oblige you by falling for those lines! This odd tradition is not restricted to children alone. Even adults are known to plan and execute elaborate pranks on their friends and family-members, co-workers and even strangers; and the best part of the tradition is that most people are sporting enough to take it all in good humour! Today with the advent of the internet and global news services, April Fool pranks can reach and embarrass an even larger audience. And then there is social media, so the canvas just gets wider and wider. Newspapers and other dailies often come up with an elaborate startling story that you learn later was a hoax for April Fool. Even giants of ‘respectability’ such as the BBC are known to have gone to great lengths to play a prank on their viewers…like the time in 2008 when they actually had many believe their report in “Miracles of Evolution” which showed how penguins can fly! The problem is that at times even genuine events on this day are misinterpreted as a joke. This was why many dismissed it all as a hoax when in 2004 Google announced their web-based e-mail service Gmail with 1GB of storage because it came after midnight on 31 March!
There are many theories related to the origin of this day. Some like to find a parallel with two ancient celebrations that happen around the same time of the year: the first comes to us from ancient Rome and is known as the festival of Hilaria. It celebrates the resurrection of the god Attis. The word ‘hilaris’ itself is the root word for hilarity, which means great merriment. Today this day is also known as Roman Laughing Day. The second festival is our own Holi which celebrates the arrival of spring and as part of which people enjoy smearing colour on each other and playing pranks like throwing coloured water, even as they tell the other person, “Bura na manaana, Holi hai” (don’t take it to heart, after all it’s Holi!). However, no clear connection between these two ancient celebrations and the observance of April Fools Day has ever been established. When we were studying Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (dating to 1392), i remember our Professor telling us that the story of the vain cock Chauntecleer being tricked by a fox is probably the earliest recorded association of April 1st with jesting and playing pranks on others. This could be a mere coincidence or a reference to a tradition prevalent among many pre-Christian groups who used to observe summer on May 1st and referred to those who celebrated it on April 1st as fools. The most widely accepted explanation traces this bizarre tradition to 16th Century France and the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar. Pope Gregory XIII gave the world the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The accepted calendar till then was the Julian Calendar which celebrated New Year on April 1st. When King Charles IX declared that France would begin using the Gregorian calendar, he also moved the first day of the year to Jan 1st in keeping with the reformation of the calendar. Many people remained unaware of this change and continued to celebrate New Year on April 1st. They were promptly made fun of by those in the know and thus became April Fools! (In French they call them “Poisson d’Avril”, which literally means April Fish.)
Just as an interesting aside, the traditional luni-solar calendar followed in our country also marks New Year around this time…it generally falls around the last week of March or the beginning of April. Various regions have a different name for it of course…Ugadi (in Telangana, Andhra and Karnataka) Gudi Padwa (in Maharashtra), Cheti Chand (among the Sindhis), Vaisakhi (Punjab), Naba Barsha (Bengal), Puthandu (Tamil Nadu), Bihu (Assam), Pana Sankranti (Orissa)—being the ones i know of. Perhaps there are more. And we celebrate them all without any fear of being labelled ‘fools’ for doing so!!!
(More on other ‘April Days’ coming up next…)