The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

March 29, 2013

The joke’s on you

Can you name a traditional day each year in which there is no official holiday, nobody gets off work, we don’t buy gifts for one another and there is no lavish feasting or driving off to grandma’s house we go?

And yet, each and every one of us, from an octogenarian to a first-grader, has or will participate in this odd observance at some point in our lives, no matter how hard we try not to.

That pretty much lets out Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July and any number of other days and observances and celebrations we can conjure up and add to our ever-expanding calendars each year.

Don’t know? Head still clogged up by early spring allergies or the lethargy that begins at winter’s end, as spring weeds begin to seemingly grow by moonlight?

Well, the joke’s on you if you haven’t figured out that it’s nearly April Fools’ Day, for the umpteenth time in our civilization’s written chronicle.

Having read quite a bit on the subject of April Fools’ Day — April 1 for any little kids new to this fairly pointless day of observance — this day each year is so shrouded in mystery, its amazing it still is noted by almost all of us.

The History Channel seems to have a fairly good fix on this most peculiar of non-holidays.

According to its website, on April 1, 1700, English pranksters began popularizing April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on one another.

Different cultures and divergent peoples have observed All Fools’ Day — what Americans call a typical day in the United States Congress — and some think its murky origin coincided with spring and the vernal equinox.

Some historians point to the year 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian, which was called for in the Council of Trent in 1563.

People who were slow to get news — which was just about everyone in the days before telephones, telegraphs, computers and smartphones — failed to recognize the start of the new year had been moved from spring to Jan. 1, when celebrating the start of the year formerly had been the last week in March through April 1.

Thus, these people were looked upon as uninformed and gullible, and became the butt of jokes and hoaxes, since they didn’t even know when the new year began.

In fact, some would place paper fish on the backs of others — April fish — which was said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and thus a gullible person.

In 18th-century Great Britain, the Scots by tradition celebrated a two-day event called “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands. The gowk is a word for the cuckoo bird, and a symbol for a fool.

That was followed by Tailie Day, where pranks were played on people’s rear ends, and fake tails or notes scribbled with “kick me” were pinned to people’s backsides.

This seems to have more credence with me than all the other tales and theories and musings about the origin of April Fools’ Day.

I can remember in grade school people pinning these same notes to others’ backs, and making the poor unfortunate wearer of such a note the butt of jokes.

But it was so long ago, I can’t remember if it coincided with April Fools’ Day, or was just standard fare for adolescent pranking.

In modern times, April Fools’ Day jokes have appeared in newspapers, aired on radio or TV and been included on websites with seeming great regularity, reporting outrageous stories and wild claims.

Some have gotten more than one person in trouble and cost the jobs of a few pranksters, whose boss took a dim view of the employee’s April foolishness.

In 1957, the BBC reported Swiss farmers had experienced a record spaghetti crop, and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees.

In 1996, Taco Bell duped people during an announcement it had purchased Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, and was going to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.

In 1998, Burger King advertised a “left-handed Whopper,” and apparently a lot of clueless, gullible customers ordered the fake sandwich.

Once, a good high school friend of mine woke me April 1 with a phone call, saying there had been a huge explosion east of Waukomis.

I jumped up bleary-eyed, and said I could see the smoke, as he busted out laughing.

Ever since that day, I’ve been more than on my April Fools’ guard.

But if I falter April 1, I would be in your debt if you see a “kick me” note taped to my backside, and discreetly let me in on the joke before I walk into the newsroom.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking

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