Origins of April Fool’s Day


Myself  

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The joker symbolizes the practical jokes associated with April Fools’ Day. (PhotoObjects.net/Jupiterimages)

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One of the most light-hearted days of the year is April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, celebrated every year on April 1.

On April Fools’ Day, people indulge in playing harmless practical jokes, for example, telling friends that their shoelaces are untied or sending them on so-called fools’ errands, and also spreading hoaxes. Both the jokes and their victims are labelled “April fools”. So, people indulging in playing April Fool jokes expose their prank by shouting “April Fool!“.

On this day some newspapers, magazines and other published media report fake stories, which are usually explained on the following day or printed below the news section in small letters like those found in some agreements.

Although April Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated by different cultures for several centuries no country has yet declared the day as a public holiday.

The exact origins of All Fools’ Day still remain a mystery.

The Hilaria

Some forerunners of April Fools’ Day, the custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one’s neighbours, include the Roman festival of Hilaria.

The Hilaria (Latin “the cheerful ones“) were ancient Roman religious festivals celebrated on the March equinox to honour Cybele.

The term ” Hilaria” seems to have originally been a name which was given to any day or season of rejoicing, celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. According to Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – August 13, 662), a Christian monk, theologian, and scholar, the Hilaria were, either private or public. If private, it is the day in which a person gets married, or a day when a son was born. If public, those days of public rejoicings decided by a new emperor which were devoted to general rejoicings and public sacrifices, and no one was allowed.

Some speculate that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

The first recorded association between April 1 and foolishness appeared around 1392, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In The Prologue to the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale“, Chaucer tells the story of the vain cock Chauntecler who falls for the tricks of a fox. The narrator describes the tale as occurring:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte  March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes  and two

Unfortunately, the reference “Syn March bigan thritty dayes  and two” is ambiguous and worthless as historical evidence.

Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “32 March”, meaning April 1. Modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Thus the passage originally meant 32 days after March, namely, May 2nd, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381.

Whatever Chaucer may have meant to convey, we can not conclude, based on these few lines, that he was aware of a custom of playing pranks on April 1st.

Poisson d’vril

Poisson d’avril

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In 1508, in a poem titled “Le livre de la deablerie” written by Eloy d’Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer might have a possible reference to April Fool’s Day. According to Wikipedia, it consists of “a dialogue between Satan and Lucifer, in which their nefarious plotting of future evil deeds is interrupted periodically by the author, who among other accounts of earthly and divine virtue, records useful information on contemporary musical practice.”

Though the poem would only be of interest to historians of music, it includes the line, “maquereau infâme de maintt homme et de mainte  femme, poisson d’vril.

The phrase “poisson d’vril” (April Fish) is the French term for an April Fool, a possible reference to the holiday when people were made fools for having paper fish placed on their backs to symbolize a gullible person or a young, easily caught fish.  However, it is unclear whether d’Amerval’s use of the term referred to April 1st specifically. He might have intended the phrase simply to mean a foolish person.

Eduard de Dene’s comical poem (1561)

In 1561, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene published a comical poem titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach” meaning (roughly) “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.” In this poem, a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant on absurd errands on April 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.

This is a fairly clear reference to a custom of playing practical jokes on April 1st. So, we can infer that April Fool’s Day dates back at least to the sixteenth century.

Because of this reference to poet Eduard de Dene and other vague French references, historians believe that April Fool’s Day must have originated in continental northern Europe and then spread to Britain.

The changeover from Julian Calendar to Gregorian Calendar

The Romans used a complicated lunar calendar, based on the phases of the moon. A group of people decided the addition and removal of days to keep this calendar in unison with the astronomical seasons, marked by equinoxes and solstices.

Julius Caesar consulted an Alexandrian astronomer named Sosigenes and in 45 BCE, created a more regulated civil solar calendar, based on the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. In this Julian calendar, a common year had 365 days divided into 12 months with every fourth a leap year with a leap day added to the month of February.

Today, the Gregorian calendar also known as the Western or Christian Calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world. In 1582, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563, some European Catholic countries such as France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain introduced the Gregorian calendar. However, many countries non-Catholic continued to use the Julian Calendar. Turkey was the last country to changeover officially to the Gregorian calendar on January 1, 1927, So, it took almost 300 years for all the countries to switch over to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian Calendar.

In the Middle Ages, most European towns celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25. In some areas of France, New Year’s Day was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. The use of January 1 as New Year’s Day was common in France by the mid-16th century, and this date was adopted officially in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.

So, according to some historians, the April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582 when people who were slow to get the news of the changeover to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian Calendar, or failed to understand the new calendar. So, those who celebrated the New Year’s Day on some other dates other January 1, became victims of the butt of jokes and hoaxes of those who celebrated New Year’s Day on January 1.

Escape of Duke of Lorraine and his wife on April 1, 1632

According to a legend, the Duke of Lorraine and his wife were imprisoned at Nantes. On April 1, 1632, disguising themselves as peasants, they escaped from the prison by walking through the front gate.  A person who recognized them told the guards about it. The guards thought the warning was a “Poisson d’vril joke and scoffed at the person who reported it.

John Aubrey (1686)

In 1686, John Aubrey, an English antiquarian, collected notes about popular customs and superstitions, as research for a contemplated work to be titled, Remains of Gentilism and Judaism. His collected notes were published posthumously. He wrote, “Fooles holy day. We observe it on ye first of April. And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.”

So by the late seventeenth century, April Fool’s Day had definitely spread to Britain.

Washing the Lions prank (1968)

The tradition of keeping animals at the Tower of London began in the 13th century when Emperor Frederic II sent three leopards to King Henry III. In the following years, elephants, lions, and even a polar bear trained to catch fish in the Thames were added to the collection.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a German visitor wrote, “all variety of creatures in the Tower including three lionesses, one lion of great size called Edward VI from his having been born in that reign; a tyger; a lynx; a wolf excessively old… there is besides a porcupine, and an eagle.”

At that time, a popular traditional prank to be played on April Fool’s Day was sending gullible victims to the Tower of London to see the “washing of the lions” (a non-existent ceremony).

On April 2, 1698, a British newspaper Dawks’s News-Letter reported: “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.”

Examples of this “washing of the lions” prank occurred as late as the mid-nineteenth century. For more about the history of this prank, see the article: Washing the Lions.

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Washing The Lions (Source: Hoaxes.org)

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The above is an image of a card printed by the late Albert Smith and distributed among his friends. It’s hard to say whether any of these cards were sold as he did not authorise the transaction nor whether any person tried to use these cards at the non-existent “White Gate.”

By the eighteenth century, one of the most popular outing for visitors to London was to visit the Tower of London to see the menagerie. However, the population of the animals declined during the early nineteenth century. In 1834, the few remaining animals were transferred to the London Zoo opened to the public in 1828 in an area of Regent’s Park.

In the 18th century, April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain. In 1708, a correspondent wrote to the British Apollo magazine asking, “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?

In Scotland, it turned into a traditional two-day event that began with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phoney errands. Gowk is a word that denotes a  cuckoo bird, a symbol for a fool.

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Tailie Day

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This was followed by Tailie Day, a prank played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.

Nowadays, newspapers, radio and TV stations, and Web sites have participated in the April 1 tradition creating intricate April Fools’ Day hoaxes by reporting outrageous fictional claims to fool their audiences.

In 1957, BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees. In fact, many viewers fell for this report.

In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a cooked-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.

In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people by announcing that it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.

In 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” and many clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.

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Jesus the Exorcist, the Healer, …


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Jesus and Beelzebul – Luke 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon [that was] mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.

Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.”

Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.

But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.

And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.

If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out?

Therefore they will be your judges.

But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The Jews of Jesus’ period believed that in addition to God and his material creation, there existed a world of spirits, some good and some evil, who interacted with human beings; and that the evil spirits harm human beings and also lead them astray into disobeying God and his commandments.

Banishing Satan and the allied spirits under his control from the world, and the destruction of his rule over human beings becomes part of Jewish Eschatology. In continuity with the eschatological prophecies of the prophets, there were two distinguished periods of human history. It asserts that the present period of history is under the control of Satan, or a synonymous eponym, but will end with the approach of the time of eschatological salvation.

In Jewish understanding, human beings are capable of having some limited control over Satan and his allied spirits and have the ability in certain instances to counteract or reverse their malevolent influence by having extensive knowledge about them and using the proper skills or rituals to expel and control them. Jesus, a Jew, accepts this idea and sees his own period in history as the period in which the Kingdom of God would replace the Kingdom of Satan.

Jesus was known not only as a healer but also to a certain extent as an exorcist. These two categories – healing and exorcism – overlap to some extent because possession by a demon can often manifest itself as physical ailments in such persons. In many instances, a person who has been exorcised is said to be healed.

In the Synoptic Gospels, we see a lot of instances of exorcism by Jesus. Here, I cite a few:

1. Luke 11:14-23 = Matthew 12:22-30: In Matthew and Luke, the Beelzebul controversy is precipitated by Jesus’ driving out a demon from a man.

2. Mark 1:21-28, Luke 4:31-37: At the synagogue in Capernaum, the evil spirit possessing a man recognizes Jesus and cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  Jesus drives out the evil spirit saying “Quiet! Come out of him!.” Before departing with a loud cry, the unclean spirit shakes the man violently. The witnesses to this event are amazed that Jesus has authority over evil spirits.

3. Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, and Matthew 8:28-34: Jesus heals a demoniac man (two men in Matthew) in the territory of Gadarenes (Gerasenes).

Jesus’ exorcism begins even before he actually meets the demonized. When Jesus does come face to face with the possessed man, the demon(s) within him is agitated and cries out in alarm “What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” (Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28). For he had ordered the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (It had taken hold of him many times, and he used to be bound with chains and shackles as a restraint, but he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into deserted places.) (Luke 8:29)

The demon possessing the man is called “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. The demons plead with Jesus to allow them to enter into a herd of swine that was feeding there on the hillside. Jesus lets them, and the possessed herd of swine rush down the steep bank into the Sea of Galilee and are drowned.

4. Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-43a and Matthew 17:14-20: An evil spirit possessing a boy causes him to be deaf and dumb and sometimes tries to harm him by throwing him into fire or water. Jesus exorcises the boy after his disciples tried unsuccessfully to do so.  Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up. (Mark 9:26-27)

Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-20)

5. Matt 9:32-34: Jesus heals a dumb demoniac; and when the demon was driven out the mute person spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.  But the Pharisees said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”

6. Luke 13:10-17: In a synagogue, on a Sabbath day, Jesus heals a crippled woman who was there for eighteen years. She was bent over by the evil spirit and was completely incapable of standing erect.

7. Mark 7:24-30, Matthew 15:21-28: The daughter of a woman who was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth (a Canaanite in Matthew) is possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus heals the girl, but reluctantly, and says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” meaning that he has come to bring deliverance to the Jews, insofar as the benefits of the Kingdom of God belong to them – “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

8. Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2: Out of the women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary Magdalene is one out of whom Jesus cast seven demons.

9. Mark 3:20-22: Jesus himself is accused of being possessed. The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

The saying about the ‘plundering of the strong man’ comes in the context of Jesus’ self-defence against the accusation that he casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul.  There are two different versions of the same tradition, quite dissimilar to each other: Mark 3:27 = Matt 12:29; Luke 11:21-22.

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Matt 12:29
How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
Mark 3:27
But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.
Luke 11:21-22
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.

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The Gospel of Thomas has a shorter version of this saying: “Jesus said, ‘One cannot enter a strong person’s house and take it by force without tying his hands. Then one can loot his house’.” (35)

So, all these different versions boil down to this: In order to plunder the house of a strong man one must be stronger than he is; only then can one carry away his goods.

Here, Jesus is speaking allegorically: the strong man is Satan and the house is his kingdom or sphere of influence. Jesus is telling that an entity stronger than Satan has come and is in the process of plundering his kingdom, which is an ambagious reference to himself. The booty taken by the stronger man represents those who were demonized but whom Jesus freed from Satan’s influence.

To recap, by the power Jesus has over demons, the reign of Satan is in the process of being replaced by the Kingdom of God.

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Jim Reeves » Satan can’t hold me

When the trumpet has sounded and at judgement, we stand
And the Lord, up in heaven, takes you by the hand
If for things I’ve done wrong I am sent down below
Satan can’t hold me this much I know

Satan can’t hold me, nobody can
Angel or devil, spirit or man
Through the valleys of darkness, I’ll come to your side
Your love, my beacon, my love, my guide

I will climb over mountains, fly up in the blue
I’ll swim every river that keeps me from you
Till that wonderful day, we’re together again
Satan can’t hold me, true love must win

Satan can’t hold me, nobody can
Angel or devil, spirit or man
Through the valleys of darkness, I’ll come to your side
Your love, my beacon, my love, my guide

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Arrack, the Spirit of Sri Lanka!



By T. V. Antony Raj

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Marco Polo in his 13th-century travelogue, “Il Milione“, commented about Arrack, the wonderful spirit, documenting it as a legendary beverage forever, and the predecessor to nearly every new world spirit.

VSOA

Variations abound, but the purest, single-ingredient spirit remains exclusively handcrafted in the island nation of Sri Lanka, where the country’s oldest and most prestigious distilleries distill Premium, Old and Very Special Old Arrack (VSOA).

700 years of knowledge handed down from generations of master artisans, makes VSOA a spirit unique to the island. Premiere blends of handcrafted refined single and double-distilled spirits stored in Halmilla wood barrels are allowed to mellow for 2 years.

Mendis Ceylon Arrack

Have you tried DCSL VSOA, WHITE LION VSOA, Mendis Special, or IDL OLD ARRACK? If not, I would say you do not have any knowledge or respect for old age!

“One For Me, One For You…”


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

two-bags-of-oranges

On the eve of All Souls Day, two boys ventured into one of the orange orchards in the village. They saw two bags of freshly plucked oranges lying unattended. Grabbing a bag each, they left the orchard unobserved. They then decided to go to a quiet place to share the lot equally.

While they jumped over the parapet wall of the village cemetery two oranges fell out of one of the bags but they did not bother to pick them at that time.

A few minutes later, the village drunkard Carolis Appuhamy, who looked after the churchyard and the cemetery was returning inebriated from the tavern. While passing the cemetery he heard a monotonous mumbling: “One for me, one for you, one for me, one for you, one for me, …

Frightened Carolis Appu ran as fast as he could to the church. When he saw Father Augustine he blurted “Anéy father, please come, come. I heard Satan and Saint Peduru sharing the dead at the cemetery.

Curiosity taking the upper hand, Fr Augustine followed Carolis Appu to the cemetery. The crouched near the parapet wall and heard the voice muttering, “One for me, one for you, one for me, one for you, one for me, …

Suddenly, the voice stopped counting and said: “FinishedWhat about those two outside the parapet wall?

Fr Augustine and Carolis Appu immediately took to flight. They ran towards the Church shouting madly in unison: “We are not dead, we are not dead…