As the jesting and jokery of April Fool’s Day once again commences, we here at the Westwood Enabler would like to put comedy aside for a moment to take an earnest, investigative look at the true origins of this landmark holiday.
Many readers may already be aware of the ancient origins for a day of lightheartedness and prankery. The Romans held the religious festival of Hilaria on the 25th of March, but many historians have chosen to obscure any records of this rich tradition, as scholarly consensus has deemed most of the humor to be dick jokes, teabag related jesting, and Yo Momma So Barbarous jokes. Even still, excavations on the Sicilian coast have yielded a wealth of Roman engravings dating from 221 to 89 BCE. One such artifact tells the story of a freed slave Claudius Secundus, who, in a spate of playful buffoonery, impregnated his former owners’ wife. To return the prank, he was executed.
But there is an even earlier attestation to a communal day of foolishness, found in the Iranian festival of Sizdeh Bedar, which dates as far back as 536 BCE. Celebrated on the 13th day of the Persian new year, Nowruz, this holiday is most often commemorated by exchanging tawdry insults, gifting inedible foods as pranks, horrifically persecuting Jews, and many other traditions still practiced to in Iran this day.
Let us now jump far ahead into the Middle Ages, where many of the European April Fools Day traditions were beginning to formulate. Chaucer, the renowned 14th century English poet – best known for writing The Canterbury Tales and for tragically being born without a first name – had penned many rich fables which influenced life in the British Isles for centuries and centuries. He also wrote one about April Fools. What, did you think he was unrelated to the topic at hand? That we were just bringing him up to sound cultured? Of course not, this is all relevant. Pay attention. An exerpt from his story Thy Nun’s Bustey Sonn illustrates this masterfully:
“Thee foxe is lief, ‘Ponst spown relief, His cock sangg proud and ye,
The Apriles Knave, his balls now shavedd, His soul ye now no morer.”
Nobody has cared enough to actually understand what it means, but modern scholars tell us it definitely relates to this, and that we should really check it out sometime, like, seriously. We asked modern scholars if any other such apposite traditions could be found in Dante’s Inferno, but they told us it’s actually called The Divine Comedy, and threw scalding hot tea in our faces for our ignorance.
Another Medieval example of April foolery is found in the Kingdom of Denmark, where the subjects of King Ardhur Alene were permitted just one joke a year. Any Dane found in violation of this decree is said to have been skinned alive by the sharp end of a radish. By 1521 this archaic comedy “Purge” was so eagerly anticipated by the serfs and slaves of Denmark that the closing of each Narr-Knagetog celebration was marked by the Royal custodian sweeping away the mountains of underpants, fake buttocks (made of crude animal skins), and dead jugglers which would amass amidst the violent chaos which dominated this hallowed day..
Looking at more modern examples, we can see the a day of pranks and April Fools resonates eternally through all cultures. For the Catholics of Brazil, April First is celebrated through what is known as “A Remoção dos Sacerdotes” – The Stripping of The Priests. Dating to 1829, Catholics suspicious that their local padre was cross-dressing would have just one day a year to determine this. While April 1rst was adopted as the official day for this holiday at the Council of Trinidad, Brazilian priests have also been known to be “defrocked” on Easter Sunday, so as to catch unsuspecting clergy off guard, and exploit the alleged cross-dressing for maximum effect. In 1909, a head deacon in Sao Paulo was found to be wearing crotchless panties and a sequin bra with peekaboo cutouts. In 1987, the longstanding priest of the Church of Our Holy Father Cathedral in Belo Horizonte was revealed to be an extremely incontinent mule (cabeçudo). Alternatively, some actually believe he was in fact a small horse (garanhão) with just an upset stomach and extremely loose rectum, while still other, more sceptical witnesses believe it was two priests in a horse suit who just smelled like shit. Pope John Paul II was alerted to this and promptly moved the priest to a different church.
Or take the case of South Ossetia, where Georgian Muslims and Orthodox Christians have continued their centuries-old custom of flogging a dog with another dog. Although much, if not all of the humor seems to have been lost in translation, we have been repeatedly assured that this is indeed a hilarious prank. Sadly, not every occasion went off as joyous and free as this rich tradition deserves, as U.S. President B.J. Clinton unfortunately found out during a goodwill visit to the region in 1999. Buddy, his chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever, was swung gracefully yet fatally against the torso of an unsuspecting Pomeranian (often known as a Pom or Pom Pom) by Parliamentary Speaker Kosta Georgievich Dzugaev, known locally as “სვინგის ძაღლი მეფე” or, “The Georgian Babe Ruth of Dog Flogging.” Neither dog went to heaven.
Pranking takes another form in the deep recesses of the Gobi desert, where a group of Shaolin monks on a road-trip from Shanghai to San Francisco were stranded from 1911-1938. Their VW van was not yet invented, which really bummed them out. In a psychosis induced delirium they floated into space and made sweet love to the Sky Wolf which rains dreams onto Gumdrop Island. Each of the 14 men were diagnosed with Juggler’s Lung by a fox driving a speedboat across the Milky Way.
In detailing the rich majesty of April Fool’s humble genesis, we here at the Westwood Enabler hope we have educated at least some of our four readers. And as this day draws to a close, while the rubber chickens and fake dog poops are tossed in the garbage, always remember that the funniest jokes are the jokes no one laughs at.