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A Fool and His Monkey are Soon High-Hatted

April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, has earned a reputation as one of the funniest and funnest days of the year. Some people plan pranks and jokes for months leading up to the big day, and become all atingle with anticipation about springing something silly on the unsuspecting. There are books and websites dedicated to chronicling the best capers played down through the years, and to offering hints and suggestions of new tricks to the humor-impaired. People study and mull and ponder and consider (and many other words my Thesaurus doesn’t list) countless possibilities, alone and in groups, at offices and on Internet forums, all in an attempt to execute just the right joke on just the right fool or fools.

Of course, unlike the brilliant ones you’ll find on Skepchick, 98.9976% of those pranks turn out to be yawn-inspiring events that at worst elicit the dull stare of a dairy cow from the target and at best trigger a cursory fake laugh from those unfortunate enough to be party to the foolishness. And as tkingdoll pointed out in her post this morning, fake laughs do not a clown face make.

Something to think about.

Still, if you don’t have a fake laugh, I recommend you get yourself one. They’re invaluable. Heck, I use mine all the time; at work, in the company of my clergyman, and especially when Rebecca calls me being all “funny”. Nothing like a good, fake, knee-slappin’ belly laugh.

But I digress.

The popularity of April Fool’s Day got me to thinking about its origins. And of course with libraries of reliable information and reams of erroneous bullshit merely a mouseclick away, I set to researching our favorite . . . holiday?. . .

That’s actually where I started. Is April Fool’s Day considered a real holiday? It’s listed on many calendars, same as Christmas and Yom Kippur. But does it have the same cachet as the holiday observed with fasting and prayer on the 10th day of Tishri in accordance with the rites described in Leviticus 16?

Granted, they both seem to be testing our gullibility. But is April Fool’s Day a holiday?

Strangely enough, there was not a lot of information about this topic on the web. I did, however, manage to dig up some photocopies of old parchments and letters at my library from some medieval European magistrates. These were men who, in their time, celebrated New Year’s Day on or around April 1. The reason was, it closely follows the vernal equinox (March 20th or March 21st.) There was reasonable method to their madness.

At the time, much of Europe celebrated March 25, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year. And according to the parchments I dug up, it was declared widely that the vernal equinox and the new year would in fact both be celebrated as holidays.

Everyone got the day off from work. Their medieval relatives came in from out of town with their screaming, smelly little medieval kids. They drank too much. Spent too much money. And generally made themselves and everyone around them miserable. The two dates were twin bill holidays. They were the Christmas and New Year’s Day of their time!

But, April 1st wasn’t known as All Fool’s Day then.

It wasn’t until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) to replace the old Julian Calendar that things really started to funny up. First, Pope Greg’s calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated Jan. 1. This is hilarious, because it’s a date he apparently pulled right out of his ass, since there was no natural event to coincide with it, like the vernal equinox observed by the old school Europeans. And don’t we just have to laugh at a man who wears a dress in the service of an invisible being and who wields that kind of power? It’s too scary not to.

But to Greg’s delight, the good citizens of France, eschewing a date for the new year that coincided with an observable event in nature for the whimsy of a man in a funny hat and way too much jewelry, adopted the new, reformed calendar and began celebrating New Year’s Day on Jan. 1.

Soon other countries followed suit, because the Pope’s organization was purported to be very astute. Somehow it had garnered a reputation for knowing what it was talking about, and it had far-reaching influence, and the reformed calendar found more and more support.

According to noted historians like Benedict of Verona, Thibault Ranulf the French scribe, and Toly Turstin and his apprentice Steve, however, many people either refused to recognize the new date as the beginning of the new year, or they simply did not know about it (they apparently filtered all mass emails from the Pope into the Junk bin), and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1.

Well, as often happens when not everyone thinks exactly like those people with robes and invisible friends, there was a little bit of tension. The new calendar supporters began making fun of the traditionalists, sending them on “fool’s errands” or trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, the practice spread throughout Europe.

And so it was that when the traditionalists were celebrating their New Year’s Day on April 1st, the god-fearing people — who had modeled themselves after the passive and tolerant Jesus Christ — worked tirelessly to make fools of them and mercilessly ridiculed them.

It’s not clear who was the bigger fool in this historic scenario, but all seemed right with the world.

Unfortunately, I don’t find much amusement in that explanation of the origin of All Fool’s Day. It’s just too . . . sad a tale to give me much of a chuckle. I mean, Christians ridiculing people because they didn’t accept a very arbitrarily set new calendar just doesn’t seem like a lot of fun to me.

There is another possible explanation, however, that I like better. It’s one that I can’t go into fully right now, but it’s something the world needs to know. I don’t want to reveal much, but I can tell you that it involves an ancient mummy curse, space aliens, and lots and lots of robots.

So stay tuned. For on the first day of April of some year, all will be revealed unto you. And you will be amazed.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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28 Comments

  1. Don’t we just have to laugh at a man who wears a dress in the service of an invisible being and who wields that kind of power? It’s too scary not to.

    Hooray for homophobia and jokes making fun of deviations from standard gender roles! Just the kind of high-brow considered commentary I’ve come to expect from Skepchick. Men! Wearing dresses! Hilarious.
    Bye.

  2. Hooray for homophobia and jokes making fun of deviations from standard gender roles! Just the kind of high-brow considered commentary I’ve come to expect from Skepchick. Men! Wearing dresses! Hilarious.
    Bye.

    ????????

    Not sure what you’re getting at, but the fact of Pope Greg’s garb is a mere peripheral bit of pomp and circumstance to the power he had. I only mention it to add comic details to how disturbing that power was.

    And I don’t have a clue about his sexual orientation. The subject had not even entered my mind. So to use the term “homophibia” is inaccurate if not insulting.

    But I guess if I have to explain them, they don’t go into the act.

  3. I’ll try to help out: why is the garb “comic”? In other words, why is it funny when a man wears a dress? Why does the former pope’s “dress” stand in contrast to his power?

    (I’m setting aside for a moment the idea that the clothing worn by modern popes counts as a dress, and that 16th century popes wore those kinds of garments.)

    Homophobia as a term usually extends to cover having issues with non-standard gender presentation.

  4. If I may be so bold- I’m going to assume the first male blogger to Skepchick is not a homophobe. I believe the comment was made because it was funny. I’m betting a lot of those Europeans rebelling against the pope wore kilts and similar garments, and still found the papal vestments amusing, and possibly “fruity”.

    And by the way- I occasionally like to wear my kilt. It is technically a skirt, but a very manly one. A gay man in a kilt would be a manly, gay man.

    I see no need to make a big deal out of the remark, unless you think it would lead to a misunderstanding. I, for one, doubt it.

  5. Nooks: I don’t know if Sam intended it this way (he can certainly explain/defend himself better than I can), but here’s how I view it:

    -Man wearing a dress: not in and of itself funny.
    -Man who is the leader of an organization that champions traditional conservative values, and who (in the 16th century, at least) would at the very least excommunicate someone who blatantly deviated from standard gender roles by wearing a dress to say nothing of homosexual activity, wearing a dress: funny, because it implies a deep-seated hypocrisy. But that might just be my interpretation.

    As to my post above, yes, that was sarcasm. It was less directed towards your criticism of the remark itself (though while I agree that deviations from standard gender roles should inherently be viewed as comic, I do think the reaction was rather overblown), it was more about your statement about Skepchick as a whole. Painting this whole site and all of the people who work on it as homophobic and cruel towards members of the LGBT community when part of their entire purpose is to defy these self-same strict gender roles all based on one offhand joke that you somehow extrapolated to cover all of the commentary over the whole site is unfair and incredibly insulting.

  6. Sure, hypocrisy can certainly be ironic and even funny. On the other hand (and I know I just got done saying I wasn’t going to raise this) papal robes aren’t a dress. Not to mention that attitudes and concepts of gender roles and sexual identity in the 16th century don’t map at all well to those of today, Dread Polack.

    As I wrote when replying to Sam, it’s the pretty obvious parallel being drawn between being pope (powerful) and wearing a dress (not powerful) that bothers me here.

    Do I think that the entire skepchick blog is populated by homophobes? Of course not. I do think some of the writers could stand to consider their words a little more carefully before publishing them if they don’t want to estrange their readers.

    My overblown reaction stems from a growing frustration with tone on this blog—jokes that I think are based in even slight homophobia are merely the final straw. I’m solving it by not reading any longer, absent making myself a little more clear in the comments on this post.

  7. I’ll try to help out: why is the garb “comic”? In other words, why is it funny when a man wears a dress? Why does the former pope’s “dress” stand in contrast to his power?

    As I’ve always said, if I have to explain any joke, it probably shouldn’t go into the act, meaning that perhaps it’s just not that funny. However, I’ll say in this case, it seems my remarks were simply something you don’t personally find funny.

    I won’t try to explain why I think it’s funny. Subjective discussions rarely get anywhere. But I think MarlowePI exprersses the idea well enough when he says:

    Man wearing a dress: not in and of itself funny.
    -Man who is the leader of an organization that champions traditional conservative values, and who (in the 16th century, at least) would at the very least excommunicate someone who blatantly deviated from standard gender roles by wearing a dress to say nothing of homosexual activity, wearing a dress: funny, because it implies a deep-seated hypocrisy. But that might just be my interpretation.

  8. As I wrote when replying to Sam, it’s the pretty obvious parallel being drawn between being pope (powerful) and wearing a dress (not powerful) that bothers me here.

    Well, I’m sure all of us would hate to lose a reader over this, but might I suggest you’re letting very inconsequential things bother you in this case.

    Exaggeration, hyperbole, and a sense of the ridiculous are merely devices I use to attempt to achieve a desired effect. Sometimes I’m succcessful. Sometimes I’m not.

    But I can assure you, there is never deliberately any malice or even a trace of homophobia in my posts.

    Perhaps instead of leaving Skepchick, you could simply point out something you find bothersome. Ask the writer about it, and come to a better understanding.

  9. I do think some of the writers could stand to consider their words a little more carefully before publishing them if they don’t want to estrange their readers.

    This is a blog, not NBC. Skepchick promotes neither censorship nor homophobia.

  10. But I can assure you, there is never deliberately any malice or even a trace of homophobia in my posts.

    To be utterly clear: I’m quite sure this is just a case of unintentional unpleasantness. However, if you’re going to employ hyperbole for comic effect, misunderstandings of this type are bound to happen.

    Perhaps instead of leaving Skepchick, you could simply point out something you find bothersome. Ask the writer about it, and come to a better understanding.

    I think we’ve both done all we can to explain our points of view here, and I doubt either of us will change the other’s mind. The most charitable thing I can say is that I don’t care for your style when it pushes my buttons, and so I won’t read it.

    How nice for you to have an audience that doesn’t seem to mind.

  11. I think we’ve both done all we can to explain our points of view here, and I doubt either of us will change the other’s mind. The most charitable thing I can say is that I don’t care for your style when it pushes my buttons, and so I won’t read it.

    Yes, we have done all we can in regard to this post, but you alluded to other frustrations you have outside of this particular incident. Am I to assume that it’s only my posts you find troubling?

    If so, I’d ask that you not lump the other writers here into your undesirable pile. They don’t deserve that because of my shennanigans.

    And if it’s not just me, I’d ask that you take my first suggestion and talk to the writers about the posts that bother you. They’re all reasonable, approachable people.

    How nice for you to have an audience that doesn’t seem to mind.

    Now, it’s one thing if you don’t like me. But I can’t understand why you would want to seem the least bit condescending to the readers here.

  12. IMO, it’s a moot point. It’d be interesting to set up a poll to guage the percentage of our readers that were put off. IMO (again), anyone who was offended by that has baggage that goes beyond reading Skepchick.

  13. When my complaints get cast as unfounded and as censorship by the readers and authors, then, no, I’m not going to be terribly inclined to expend a lot of effort making sure everyone’s feelings aren’t hurt.

    Frankly, I expect better.

  14. I was also a little off-put by that statement. It read to me at first glance as “The pope is funny cause his clothes don’t match his genitalia” rather than as Sam probably intended, “The pope is funny because he wears silly looking clothes with a straight face”.

    The same joke could’ve been achieved with, for example:

    And don’t we just have to laugh at a man who wears a silly hat in the service of an invisible being and who wields that kind of power?

    And that could’ve even gone on to bridge into various jokes about high-hatting the Pope. :-)

    Other than that minor point, though, I really got a kick out of this post. It’s amusing (and a little depressing) to image large groups of medieval people scoffing “Hah! Look at those ridiculous fools over there, still thinking that the calendar works the same way it always has! Don’t they realize that the infallible He-of-the-Largest-Hat has declared otherwise?”

  15. Sure, hypocrisy can certainly be ironic and even funny. On the other hand (and I know I just got done saying I wasn’t going to raise this) papal robes aren’t a dress.

    Not to belabor the point or anything (especially since it seems to have come to a reasonable close), but this just points more towards the hypocrisy I was talking about. Why isn’t it a dress? Because it has religious symbolism and is being worn by a powerful man who says that it’s not.

    And I second Sam’s request that if you have issues with other authors’ posts to let them know your possibly valid concerns rather than blowing up out of nowhere, making generalized, non-specific accusations and then leaving.

    Carbon, in my opinion, did it right: they politely voiced the same concern about possible interpretations while making a point to understand what they assume is the original intent.

    And now I feel I’ve talked way too much for someone who is generally just a lurker.

  16. My main objection to the “man who wears a dress” comment was that it’s so very tired.

    My curiosity about April Fool’s Day had led me to do a cursory search yesterday myself, which turned up more interesting and nuanced information than the above post. For one thing, there’s really no concrete evidence of the origins, certainly not as cut and dried as that described above – which should be no surprise to thoughtful skeptics. That left me reading something which came across as easy, knee-jerk, “ho, ho those funny evil Christians!”, a sentiment even more tired and trite than “the Pope wears a dress!”. There’s a lot more about April Fools and other fool traditions that’s of interest and worth writing about, at least to someone like me, who finds folkways and history fascinating, than is even hinted at above. The whole thing has an air of contempt and superiority, rather than an invitation to engage in critical thinking and thoughtful analysis. Too bad.

  17. Well, I have to admit, it’s becoming funnier and funnier to me that an entry posted on April 1st, that cites absolutely zero sources, and promises there’s yet another explanation for the day involving an ancient mummy curse, space aliens, and lots and lots of robots is being taken so seriously.

    I never thought this post would elicit these responses. I completely misjudged this one.

  18. I’m not one to defend Sam, but I took it as a light-hearted and humorous post. And beyond that, I don’t like to see anyone get beat up over (what I perceive as) silly, semantic issues – commenters or bloggers.

    However, considering that more readers have expressed issues with the post, I have to concede that I underestimated the percentage of readers that would be offended.

    I can’t say I understand it, but nonetheless, I was wrong to be so dismissive of the complaint.

  19. And I’m feeling the need to weigh in again in defense of Sam. I was actually starting to wonder if the protests were themselves April Fools jokes, as it was starting to look to me more and more of an obvious over-reaction.

    I’m the kind of guy who would stress out over whether someone was really offended by an off-hand comment like that. It’s stopped me from blogging (that, and not having anything to blog about). I hope you’re not as thin-skinned as me, Sam.

  20. Sam Ogden said:

    Perhaps instead of leaving Skepchick, you could simply point out something you find bothersome. Ask the writer about it, and come to a better understanding.

    Lol. I tried that with Writerdd in the McCain thread – see how good that worked!

    I don’t agree with Nook’s interpretation here, Sam’s comment was harmless, but I do agree with Nook about tone around here. I don’t know, it seems like this blog has become clique-ish or something. I’m not unique, so I wonder how many others feel this way.

    (And yes, I understand I don’t have to read it if I don’t like it anymore.)

  21. Melusine – about the tone thing – I think Writerdd was way off base in the McCain thread. Not the topic itself so much (I don’t know enough about the technicalities of American politics to judge that) as the way she spoke to you. I lurked in that thread because I wasn’t sure what to say but she seemed very very different from her normal tone!

    I like Writerdd’s posts a lot and have had many conversations with her in comment threads so I would certainly say it was not her normal tone.

    I don’t think there is a problem with tone generally at Skepchick.

    And while I think Sam could perhaps have chosen his words better I do think Nook’s tone left a lot to be desired. It was a constructive critisism but the tone was sure to get back’s up all round.

  22. Honestly, I would have been equally dsmissive. Reagrdless of how many people choose to do for whatever reasons, cross-dressing is NOT tied with homosexuality and therefore “homophobic” is entirely the worng word. Also, cross-dressing is comedy gold. Many cultures around the world and through the ages have found it high-larious, and for the most part, I stand with them. Hell, it can even make World of WarCraft entertaining. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi4jpafu5z0

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