It’s no joke: April 1 used to be New Year’s Day

By Bruce Stambaugh

If there was one day I dreaded each school year of my three decades in education, it was April 1st, better known as April Fools Day.

The students, and even a few of the teachers, were merciless with their inane April Fools jokes. I was relieved if April 1st happened to fall on a weekend.

But five times out of seven, it did not. As teacher then principal, I was forced to endure the school-wide silliness. I gave a little more slack to the younger children who dared approach the principal to try to trick him. I did my best to play along.

I remember fondly their coy smiles with their giddy calls of “your shoe’s untied.” I always took the bait, waited for the giggles and moved on down the hall until the next juvenile ambush.

It was harder for me to tolerate the older students who tried unsuccessfully to be more sophisticated with their trickery. I didn’t have much patience with students who released the distracted teacher’s pet garter snake in the room or for those who put tacks on teachers’ seats.

I wondered who in the world ever invented such a silly day. After all these years, I decided to quit wondering and investigate.

My do diligence was a thorough if not speedy search on Google. The results didn’t really lead to any definite conclusions, other than to surmise that the antics of the crazy day likely got started way back when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. This major change, which had to make health care reform seem simple, revamped the annual calendar in the entire civilized world.

The King of France, Charles IX, instituted the switch in 1564. Foremost was beginning the New Year on January 1st instead of on April 1st. Problem was 16th century communications were not what they are today. Of course, given the state of the current Twittering world, that may have been a good thing.

Word of the calendar change took several months, even years, to make its way around Europe and beyond. Not surprisingly, there were those who resisted the change, and instead preferred to maintain the status quo, which included celebrating a new year beginning March 25 and culminating on April 1. Just imagine New Year’s Eve lasting eight days. Sounds a lot like Mardi Gras to me.

Those who refused to honor January 1 as the beginning of the New Year and instead continued to use the April 1 demarcation became known as April Fools for their obstinacy and resistance to change. As the lore goes, April 1 was dubbed April Fools Day for those who clung to their old ways.

Those poor fools, excuse the pun, who refused to accept the new calendar were sent off on ridiculous errands and were made the butt of practical jokes, like sticking signs on their backs that said “kick me.” It reminded me of those good old school days.

Perhaps because it took so long for the new calendar to be accepted, the practice of nonsense on April 1st became an annual event. The silliness gradually found its way to both the British and French colonies in America.

Apparently traditions, whether good or bad, die hard. Students have been pestering teachers and principals, and probably parents, ever since. With that in mind, you just might want to check your seat today before you sit down.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “It’s no joke: April 1 used to be New Year’s Day

  1. Very interesting Bruce – I’ve often wondered what April Fool’s Day is all about. Thanks for sharing.
    Sandra

  2. I tink the world is ignorant on this day…1 april is the real deal n im gonna celebrate it as new year.

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