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Fool for a Day

Lisa Marsh

Mark Twain said it is the one day we are reminded what we are the other 364 days of the year.

Others may not even know about it until after they are duped.

April Fools’ Day is an infamous day for pranks and hooligans, but where did it all start?

Like many of our stranger traditions, no one explanation is authentic.

The most ancient form of this celebration was the Roman feast of Cerelia, dedicated to Ceres, mother of Proserpina, who lost her daughter to the god Pluto.

The legend says Proserpina was abducted by the god while picking lilies and violets, and taken to the underworld. Ceres heard her daughter’s screams, and followed the echoes in a futile search.

Ceres’ quest is well known in mythology as a “fool’s mission.”

A more recent example can be traced to the 16th century. In 1564, Charles IX of France implemented the Gregorian calendar. Prior to this, the new year was celebrated a week after the vernal equinox, on April 1. There was a week of feasting, followed by gift giving on the first day of the new year.

When New Year’s Day was moved to Jan. 1, some conservatives still kept the old tradition. This brought ridicule from others and mock gifts were given in remembrance of the day.

Part of the connection to the vernal equinox is that nature itself plays tricks on humans at this time. In Tahoe especially, the weather can be sunny or snowing, almost as if on a whim.

The event has now evolved into a day of pranks, most of which are harmless. The idea is to catch an unsuspecting victim before they know what day it is and have them take on a fool’s mission or just fall for a good practical joke.

“It is a holiday of the mind, not of the state,” says Jane M. Hatch in The American Book of Days.

In Europe, some common missions include buying pigeon’s milk, or finding a stick with one end. Common pranks include putting salt in the sugar bowl, or dirt in the coffee.

Some even go so far as to treat the day as if it were tabooed. Marriage and business ventures are avoided. No weddings were planned at many South Lake Tahoe chapels today. At the Chapel of The Bells though, there were three brave couples planning to take vows.

“I don’t know if they even know what day it is,” said Dolores Post, receptionist.

Although it is a day for deviant behavior, the well-armed skeptic should be able to make it through unscathed.


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