Second only to Christmas, your own birthday, and maybe—just maybe—the unmitigated glucose-fests that are Halloween and Easter,1 April Fools' Day figures largely in the holy rotation of kid holidays. It easily blows out lesser festivals like the Pinewood Derby, any party held at Chuck E. Cheese,2 and even the Fourth of July (unless, of course, you're savvy enough to negotiate with the arms traffickers on the rez). While the folks at Hallmark spend April commemorating much more lucrative holidays like Passover and Administrative Professionals Day,3 kids are busy replacing the filling in Oreos with toothpaste, feigning cancer, and supergluing Sacajaweas to the floor at Pacific Place. Sure, soi-disant grown-ups cause some trouble, too—especially involving corporate press releases and HazMat teams—but this adult-size increase in resources and technical wile dilutes the spirit of the day as often as not.
So where did this subversive holiday come from in the first place? No one is certain. Ha! Just kidding. Gotcha. No, it's true: No one is certain. Its origins have gone the way of strap oil, guttering pegs, and pigeon's milk.4 The most promising theory involves France's adoption of the Gregorian calendar, which mandated that New Year's be celebrated on January 1, not April 1. Many conservative or otherwise impaired calendar-keepers resisted this change; in typically inexplicable French fashion, these people were ridiculed, called "fish," and given invitations to parties that didn't exist. (Who's got your back? France, that's who.) In England, victims of pranks are called "noodles" (and pranks may only be played in the morning). In Scotland, April Fools' Day is known as April Gowk5 Day, followed immediately by Taily Day, during which pranks involving the buttocks6 are not only customary but encouraged.
1. For lucky young Gentiles, at least.
2. Have you seen this place lately? The number of video games has been reduced to almost zero, while the population of sticky, sweaty children has ballooned into the high triple digits. And Mr. Cheese still isn't wearing any pants.
3. Card front: "Don't know if it's skill/a knack or a gift/But your kind, thoughtful manner/gives others a lift." Inside message: "You're a great team player and administrative pro—You're highly thought of and a pleasure to know!" What are you worth to us? Exactly $2.49 ($3.49 if your card features Snoopy, who continues to serve his corporate masters from beyond the grave).
4. Common items for colonial-era "fool's errands." A jobbernowl might also be sent out for a copy of The History of Adam's Grandfather or some sweet vinegar.
5. Whereas in Cheshire, an April fool is an April gobby or gob. In the Lake District, an April fool is an April noddy. In Cornwall, an April fool is a guckaw or gowk or cuckoo. Successful pranks are followed by this refrain: "Fool, fool, the guckaw." Clever would-be victims of unsuccessful pranks may reply, "The gowk and the titlene sit on a tree, you're a gowk as weel as me" (English tr., "I know you are, but what am I?"). For the curious, titlene = hedge sparrow.
6. "Buttocks." Ha!
Paul Hughes, Contrib.