April Fool's Day

Don't Look Now, Your Shoes Are Untied!

By Sam Johnson

The first of April, some do say
Is set apart for All Fool's Day;
But why the people call it so
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know,
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.
      --Poor Robin's Almanac (1790)


     Ah yes, April Fool's Day. The day officially sanctioned as a time when practical jokes can be played on friends and family without fear.
     And, it is the one day of the year when we become fair game for those irrepressible pranksters around us -- friends (particularly our so-called "best friends"), students, spouses (yes, even spouses!), and children (those innocent, wide-eyed little darlings who on April 1st turn into little pixies full of surprises).
     April Fool's Day has always been a special day in the Johnson household. In fact, when I was growing up, April Fool's Day was one of our favorite times of the year, maybe second to Christmas, or third to Halloween.
     A typical April Fool's Day would go something like this:

Fairfield, California, 1967; Saturday, 5:59 a.m.

The folks are sound asleep and unsuspecting when the radio alarm clock "clicks" 6 a.m. and starts buzzing loudly and blaring rock-n-roll music full volume.
     We giggle to ourselves in the hallway.
     A few hours later, Mom is in the kitchen preparing breakfast when the doorbell rings. She rushes downstairs to answer it, but no one is there.
     "Tee-hee-hee" we twitter, trying not to laugh out loud.
     When Mom gets back to the kitchen, the buzzer on the oven suddenly goes off and she jumps a foot or two.
     Sitting innocently in front of the T.V., we are besides ourselves with laughter.
     Meanwhile, Dad has gotten up only to find all his shoes tied together, and shaving cream in his best pair. (One year, I think Peter put raw eggs in the old man's shoes, and that didn't go over too well!).
     At the breakfast table, Dad picks up the salt shaker to sprinkle a little on his eggs, and the lid falls off dumping salt all over his plate.
     "O.K., what's going on here?" Mom asks suspiciously, looking right at me.
     There's a long pause.
     "Oh, I dunno," I say, grinning in my Cheerios. "Maybe Margie did it."
     (I was a rascally tyke of twelve at the time, Margie a pixie of ten, so I could most things on her).
     "Well, Margie?" Mom's eyebrows raised inquisitively.
     Margie was wiggling and giggling in the chair next to me, her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
     "I dunno either Mom," she giggled, "BUT DON'T LOOK NOW, YOUR SHOES ARE UNTIED!"    
     "APRIL FOOLS!" we blurted out together, no longer able to keep the laughter in. And we giggled ourselves silly.

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     But why do so many people delight in prank playing, and why April 1st?
     According to Phillip Kunz, a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, "April Fool's Day is a time when people can violate the usual norms, just like Halloween or Mardi Gras.
     "More importantly, though, it allows people of unequal status to trick each
other -- children to trick parents, students to trick teachers, employees to trick bosses -- in a forgivable way. It releases tension, as long as people don't do anything harmful to one another."
     As to where and how this dubious custom of prank-playing began, it is uncertain. Though there are several popular explanations.
     The most commonly accepted are those linking our April Fool's pranks to the ancient celebrations of the vernal equinox which were filled with much feasting and foolishness.
     One such celebration was the feast of "Huli" held in India around the end of March. Part of the custom was to send someone out on a foolish errand. In Scotland, the same custom was known as "hunting the gowk" (cuckoo), and those fooled were taunted and called "April gowks."
     Another explanation links the trickery to the Roman legend of Proserpina and Pluto. Proserpina had been gathering flowers one spring day only to be abducted by the Roman god Pluto. When her mother came looking for her, Pluto fooled the mother with the echo of her daughter's voice.
     And then there is the French version that says April Fool's Day evolved from the reform calendar of Charles IX in 1564, Under the old calendar, the custom was for people to exchange New Year's gifts and make visits on April 1. Under the new calendar this custom was moved to January 1st, but the conservative faction objected so strongly to the change, that its supporters sent them mock gifts and made calls of pretended ceremony on April 1st, thus "fooling" them.
     Hence, the silly prank gifts of today's April Fool's Day.
     But no matter what the explanation for our April Fool's traditions, the point is to have a little fun on this day, to let our hair down and laugh at ourselves with our children and friends.
     Actually, I think it's too bad we relegate much of April Fool's Day to children, for there are certainly more fools among the adults, and we all need a good laugh now and again.
     A little levity can go a long way in the world today. We need at least one day of the year when we can loosen up a bit and see how silly we are; one day a year when we can laugh at ourselves and each other.
     And April Fool's Day is just the day to do this.
     Don't look now, your shoes are untied

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