Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day

Today (April 1st) is April Fool’s Day an unofficial and popular western holiday which is celebrated with the playing of pranks and the orchestrating of elaborate hoaxes. April Fool’s Day is a day on which people celebrate trickery and Tricksters – those individuals (be they gods, demons, animals or men) who specialize in the art of deceiving.

The origins of April Fool’s Day are shrouded in mystery, but celebration of the holiday goes back as far as 1582, the year Pope Gregory XIII officially replaced the Julian calendar – which was off by ten days – with the Gregorian. One theory has it that April Fool’s Day arose as a response to this change over since it not only changed the number of days in a year but also the date of New Year’s Day. Traditionally many Europeans had held New Year’s Day at the end of March, but the Gregorian calendar moved the date to the beginning of January. Once this became official anyone still found celebrating New Year at the end of March was branded a “Fool” and had pranks played on them.

April Fool’s Day first caught on in France in late 1500s and then spread across Europe. By the early 1700s it was being celebrated in Britain and soon afterwards in America. Each country also has their own unique customs when it comes to celebrating April Fool’s Day. In France the day is called Poisson d’Avril or “April Fish” and fish are a major decorating motif, being seen as a springtime symbol of fertility. A common French practical joke is to try and pin a paper fish to another person’s back without them noticing. In England all April Fool’s Day pranks are to played before noon, pranks played after noon are thought to cause bad luck to fall upon the pranker. The exact opposite is true in Scotland, however, where April Fool’s Day lasts a full 48-hours with a second day, Taily Day, being devoted entirely to jokes involving people’s posteriors – so break out the “Kick-Me” signs and whoopee-cushions.

In addition to this the archetype of the Trickster is very old with the character of The Fool being one of its many variations. The Fool (and his variants the Joker, Jester, Buffoon, Comedian, Clown, etc…) is important for his ability to speak truth to power. In times past the Fool occupied the lowest position in the hierarchy of the court and yet was the only one with the authority to speak his mind to the King and other important government officials. Furthermore, because of his unique social position the Fool was also beyond reprise and could not be punished for his remarks – this is the reason why The Fool card is worth zero points but at the same time untouchable in the game of Tarot.

April Fool’s Day is a holiday which allows us all to “play the Fool” without the fear of reprisal. It is a day on which we can embrace our own cultural Tricksters as well as our inner ones. It is a day on which we can exercise our wit and have fun…

…No Fooling.


At Top: The Fool, the only card which is worth zero points but at the same untouchable in the game of Tarot.

Bottom: Artist and researcher Jeffery Vallance’s impressive “Trickster Family Tree,” with the Fool branch at its center.

Sources: Fertility Goddesses, Groundhog Bellies & the Coca-Cola Company: The Origins of Modern Holidays (2006) by Gabriella Kalapos


John W. Morehead said...

It's interesting that you used the tarot card illustration, specifically The Fool card from the Rider Waite deck. There is some interesting symbolism in the deck, particularly in that card with a variety of influences from the trumps game from which the tarot originated, to esotericism, to Christianity. In fact, colleagues of mine have argued that The Fool can be understood as a Christ figure.

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