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April Fool’s Day

April 1, 2011

NIKKI BIELINSKI

So it’s April Fool’s day. Besides the odd (usually annoying) prank by someone else, I’ve never given it much thought. A quick Google filled me in.

There are many different theories and historical assumptions, that interestingly, span many cultures and countries. This made me wonder, is there a need in the human psyche to poke fun?  Whether it’s a relief of pent-up tension, plain old bullying, or just remembering the lighter side of life.  In several places, servants would traditionally swap roles with their masters for a few hours – humbling, a laugh, the Lord of Misrule in action, with chaos showing us the lighter side of life. The Romans celebrated a festival on March 25 called ‘Hilaria’, where they had masquerades and “general good cheer.”

One popular theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the French calendar reform. In 1564 France (keeping in with other nations), moved the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Those who didn’t to keep up with the change, who clung stubbornly to the old calendar system had jokes played on them. Pranksters would sneakily stick paper fish to their backs – Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which is the French term for April Fools.

Shakespeare, who delighted in fools in general, wrote in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, made no mention of April Fool’s Day, so was it a tradition here at that time?

It made me wonder, where in children’s fiction is this notion of making a fool of someone or making fun of them (beyond bullying) explored? I pootled around in my brain for a while before I remembered Anne Fine’s ‘The Tulip Touch’. If you haven’t read it, do. Although not an April fool’s story by any stretch of the imagination, it is a chilling reminder/exploration of how humanity can use a ‘prank’ to cause real pain, while the joy of schadenfreude leaves Tulip hungry for more… far beyond the mutual release of tension when servants swapped roles with their masters for a few hours.

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