No April Fools this year

My father loved April Fool’s Day. The last spring of his life, when he was quite ill from cancer, he managed to glue down the end of the toilet paper roll and erupt in laughter when my mother batted at it trying to find a way to get a bit of tissue. Later that day he suddenly sat up in his bed and stared at the wall across the room. When my mother asked what was the matter he sat there without moving, just staring, for another 30 seconds or so, then said “April Fools!” and laid back down.

We grew up with cardboard in our pancakes, food coloring in our milk, and hundreds of other pranks that were all a part of our father’s sense of humor and sense of fun.

It is going to take a lot of creativity to come up with a good April Fool’s joke this year. I think we are just too early in the pandemic to be in the mood for that kind of levity. The projections of the numbers of deaths from the disease are staggering and sobering. The fear that is circulating in our community is, at times, overwhelming. Our contact with other people has been reduced to the bare minimum.

There are a lot of theories and stories about the origins of April Fool’s Day. It seems to be an ancient tradition, common throughout Europe, but there are not very many references to it in historic writing. There are some references to April Fool’s dating back to the 1500’s, but Shakespeare made no mention of the day. In France it is called Poisson d’Avril or April Fish, which seems to be a bit of a joke in and of itself. One theory notes that in 1564 France reformed its calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Like many other changes, there were those who refused to observe the new calendar and stuck with their notion that the year began in the spring, not in the middle of winter. Those traditionalists became the victims of pranks by others who embraced the change. One of the pranks was to surreptitiously stick a paper fish on the back of the victim. Thus the name Poisson d’Avril.

Most ancient cultures had some kind of spring celebration. The return of warmer weather in the northern hemisphere comes around the first of April and springtime renewal festivals are common across the globe. The Jewish celebration of Passover is a spring event that may have its roots in even more ancient spring festivals. Spring is a good time to celebrate the bounty of the earth, the goodness of life and the possibilities of new birth. The Christian celebration of Easter comes in direct relationship to the Passover celebration. Jesus’ last supper occurs in the context of the celebration of the Passover according to the biblical narrative.

In medieval times Festus Fatuorum, the Feast of Fools, evolved out of Saturnalia celebrations. Celebrants elected a Lord of Misrule who parodied church rituals. The parodies often were quite irreverent and church officials condemned the practice. The tradition persisted, however, and evolved into what is now recognized as Holy Humor Sunday. Holy Humor takes place on the Second Sunday of Easter, one week after Easter Sunday. Traditions vary from simply telling jokes to playing pranks on ministers or priests. Some ministers encourage the practice while others find it antithetical to the serious business of the church. Some people claim that Easter itself is the world’s most spectacular practical joke. Death itself is defeated. Laughter emerges from tears. Things aren’t the way they seem to be.

Despite the grimness of the circumstances of this particular year, I do feel that we are in need of some good humor to lift our spirits. I just don’t have quite the right practical joke. I’m weary of anything over the Internet. There are too many serious threats and too much false information on the Internet already. And we don’t have many opportunities for in-person jokes because we are reducing our contact with other people so severely. What little interaction we do have takes place from a distance. I’m pretty sure that there are no opportunities to slap a paper fish on someone’s back without committing a grave social error. The only place I encounter more than one or two people is the grocery store and today isn’t a grocery shopping day. Besides the folk in the grocery store are in no mood for practical jokes. The other customers prefer to pretend they are the only people in the store, ignoring and refusing to look at other customers. The mood isn’t very joyous, even then they have toilet paper in stock.

Just a year ago, several news agencies ran stories on April Fools jokes, but this year they are running stories on why the world is in no mood for jokes this year.

Back in 1973 Johnny Carson cracked a joke on his television show about a toilet paper shortage. It created a measurable boost in the sales of the product. People didn’t want to fall victim to a shortage, so they stocked up. That joke just wouldn’t go over these days.

Maybe the best television April Fool’s joke was the 1957 BBC TV show “Panorama,” which ran a segment about the Swiss spaghetti harvest enjoying a bumper year thanks to mild weather and the elimination of the spaghetti weevil.

So I don’t think I’m going to go in for much of an April Fool’s Day gag this year. I’ll have to save that activity for another year when we are in a better mood in the springtime.

Having grown up with and lived all of my life with left-handed people including my mother, my sister and my son, I know that things don’t always look the same to people who view things from a different perspective. What might b a joke for me might be an offense for another. That’s why I always make sure to have both right handed and left handed toilet paper available in our house. I guess I’ll go sort the rolls to make sure we’re ready for the time when we can once again host guests.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!