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MARTHA SEZ: ‘Don’t let anyone send you on a fool’s errand or otherwise make a fool of you’

March 29, 2019
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

I hate practical jokes, but I wouldn't mind so much if they were limited to one day a year when I could stay home and not answer the phone. A day like April Fools' Day.

Watch out! April Fools' Day is coming up this Monday, April first. Don't let anyone send you on a fool's errand or otherwise make a fool of you.

The conventional wisdom is that nobody knows how or when April Fools' Day started. Why do people say this? Some little old lady knitting a tea cozy in Thrumpton, Nottinghamshire, may well be cognizant of the celebration of the first All Fools' Day, as this holiday is sometimes called. Listen, just because you don't know something, that doesn't mean nobody knows.

We do know that April Fools' Day has been observed in Europe and the British Isles for hundreds of years as a time set aside for hoaxes, false alarms and general silliness. Early spring is a natural time for high jinks and shenanigans and general hilarity.

In ancient Rome, the Hilaria were joyous religious festivals honoring Cybele, the mother goddess, at the time of the vernal equinox. Later, Hilaria could be any celebrations devoted to merrymaking.

In the early Middle ages, particularly in France, the festum fatuorum, or feast of fools, was celebrated by clergy and townspeople alike at the vernal equinox with drinking, singing, cross dressing, disguise and skits mocking the powerful in church and state. It was like an early "Saturday Night Live." (The words fatuorum, fatuous and infatuation derive from the same Latin root, fatuus, which means foolish or silly.) Too good to last, a feast day set aside for silliness was outlawed by the church in 1431.

In France, a person who falls for an April Fools' trick is called a poisson d'Avril, which means April Fish. Why? No one knows.

No one, of course, except for that little old lady knitting a tea cozy in Thrumpton, Nottinghamshire. Or is she in Montreal? And is it a sock?

On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell announced it was buying the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and would rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.

Not to be outdone, on April 1, 1998, Burger King advertised a "Left-Handed Whopper," which resulted in a great popular demand for the nonexistent burger.

The English love All Fools' Day. Beginning during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and continuing through most of the 19th Century, it was customary on April first to send unsuspecting tourists and newcomers to view the so-called annual washing of the lions at the Tower of London. More recently, various spurious headlines have appeared in English newspapers: Nottingham archeologists find Robin Hood's bones! Plans revealed to rebuild Hadrian's Wall to its full height should Scotland vote for independence! Stonehenge will be moved closer to the new visitor Centre to improve accessibility! Newly published letters reveal that Henry VIII had a secret seventh wife!

Who but the Brits would devote the time and money to produce "Miracles of Evolution," a 2008 BBC film trailer featuring flying penguins? Filmmaker and writer Terry Jones, bundled up in a parka, studio fans riffling the fur on its hood, did a creditable imitation of David Attenborough as he described the annual migration of Antarctic penguins to the tropics. You can watch it on YouTube. Is it a joke? It certainly looks real. You be the judge.

At least the English have established an end to All Fools' Day. It's over at noon on April first, and after that, anyone who attempts to play practical jokes is considered to be the fool. This is not true of the Scots, who feel obligated to drag it out for an extra day. In Scotland, April first is famously the day when the gullible are tricked into going out to hunt the gowk, or cuckoo. Then, the second of April is Tailie Day, or Preen-Tail Day, a holiday devoted to practical jokes practiced on other people's bums. Traditionally, for example, a tail or a kick-me sign might be affixed to someone's pants. Careful this doesn't happen to you.

You may or may not find Tailie Day funny. Do the Scots have a good sense of humor, one asks? The answer, according to some Brits, is yes, because it's free.

Oh look, here comes Angus carrying a gowk. The joke's on us! And is that a penguin flying around in hover mode over his head?

Have a good week.



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