The Obscure Origins of April Fool’s Day

You’ve all heard the stories, right?  From the fooler or foolee that executed or was victimized by the ultimate April Fool’s joke.  Hell, it was only a year ago that I regaled readers of this blog about my wife and her mother “fooling” me into believing that we were on the verge of birthing triplets, to include ancestral proof and an ultrasound video of the trio.

Another classic April Fool’s story was applied on a national scale when sportswriter, George Plimpton, wrote of New York Mets fireball pitcher, Sidd Finch, in the April 1, 1985 edition of Sports Illustrated.

Plimpton claimed that Finch was raised in an English orphanage, studied Buddhism, and could throw a baseball an astounding 168 miles-per-hour.  Mets fans were ecstatic, networks and newspapers rushed to interview the yoga-practicing phenomenon, and batters feared for their lives.  And it was all a hoax conceived by Plimpton, Sports Illustrated and (gasp!) even the Mets were in on it.  All involved came clean in the April 15th issue.  But where and how did this tradition of fooling people begin?  And why on April 1st?

Let’s answer the second question first.  The month of April is named after the Greek goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, Aprilis.  Aprilis was the daughter of Aphrodite (goddess of love and pleasure, among other things) and Dionysus (god of wine, parties and ecstasy among other things).  With a lineage like that, it’s easy to understand why Aprilis was fond of a god-awful good time.

Zeus eventually tasked Aprilis with making him laugh at other’s expense.  In other words, he had Aprilis use her significant humorous wit to develop and initiate practical jokes on the other gods and goddesses.

Aprilis once famously replaced Hades’ fearsome, three-headed dog, Cerberus, with a fluffy, three-headed bunny named Mazeménos, which roughly translates to “cuddly.”  Simultaneously, she convinced her father to replace the deadly waters of the River Styx with wine which the damned promptly used throw a massive party during which they all became thoroughly inebriated.  Hades failed to see the humor in all this.  However, Zeus laughed his ass off.  Now that we know the answer to the first query, let’s tackle the second.

During the Renaissance, when the artists, authors and royalty of Europe re-discovered the works of ancient Greece, some came across the stories of the heretofore obscure minor goddess, Aprilis.  One future king who reveled in the exploits of Aprilis was Henry VIII of England.

Before Henry wed six different women and had two of them beheaded, he was an impetuous youth with too much time on his hands, which could probably be said of many princes.  After all, he had an older brother, Arthur, who would ascend to the English throne rather than Henry.  Therefore, as the second born male heir, Henry was pretty much left to do as he pleased.

Young Henry quickly fell in with his father’s court jester, Stephen.  A quick word about Renaissance court jesters, or “fools” as they were sometimes called.  They certainly were not vacuous, dim-witted men prancing around in tights and a four-cornered hat complete with bells, juggling beer steins while telling crude jokes.  A Jester was, in fact, a highly intelligent individual chosen for his rapier-like wit and ability to challenge all at court with his biting sarcasm and humorous insults.  Sounds a bit like the goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, does it not?

Anyway, young Henry and Stephen had a grand time “punking” any and all members of Henry VII’s court.  And Stephen, with the protection of the young prince, was able to get away with murder, so-to-speak.  Even after Henry’s older brother, Arthur, died in 1502, making Henry next in line to the throne, he kept Stephen close and used him as an unofficial adviser.

However, this relationship displeased many at court, including Henry’s father who considered Stephen a nuisance at best and a corrupting influence on Henry at worst.  Eventually, Henry VIII’s father had the Duke of Leister accuse Stephen of treasonous activities.  A show trial ensued and Stephen was locked away in the Tower of London in 1508, never to be seen again.  His fate, to this day, remains unknown.

After Henry VIII ascended to the throne in 1509 and throughout his reign, he never forgot his childhood friend who could so easily make him laugh.  As Henry wrestled with the affairs of church and state, he often remembered those carefree days spent with Stephen as they roamed the halls and rooms at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.  It is believed that largely due to these memories, Henry desired to set aside a special day in which practical jokes were not only accepted, but encouraged, in honor of his first and only true friend, Stephen.

And what better day to celebrate the memory of Stephen, than on the first day of the month named after the goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, Aprilis?  So there you have it, the long, convoluted and somewhat touching story of the origins of April Fool’s Day.  And yes, this entire story is a total work of fiction in the tradition of the tale of Sidd Finch.  I have no idea of the true origins of April Fool’s Day as I feared if I did know the true facts, they would seep into this fictionalized version.  Happy April Fool’s Day.

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