Archive for Thursday, March 26, 2009

Watch out for pranks

March 26, 2009

Next Wednesday is a day when many Americans will be very alert to their surroundings. Unless things have changed, grade school teachers will certainly be on alert. While it isn’t truly a holiday, most of us will certainly be cognizant that it is Wednesday, April 1 — April Fools’ Day.

Maybe the “holiday” is best described in the book “Celebrations — The Complete Book of American Holidays.” The book states: “April Fools is a relatively minor holiday. Present celebrations are all but non-existent. Yet it continues to be a day which has everyone on his toes, alert to the practical joker who may lurk around the corner. A certain childlike and nostalgic quality about the day keeps it alive.”

I remember when I was in high school, one of the big pranks was to loosen the lid on the salt or pepper shaker in the cafeteria. In the college cafeteria you had to watch out for the person who filled the sugar bowl with salt. Of course that was in the days before sugar came in packets.

Another biggie in high school was stacking lockers. In those pre-security days, no one locked their lockers and people would sneak out of class and rearrange lockers so all the books would fall out when you opened the door. Well, you get the picture of pranks in those days.

So, how did the observance of a practical joke day get started in the first place? While no one seems to know for sure, there are many ideas. One that I read about is that in ancient calendars, May 1 was observed as the official first day of summer and started the farm-planting season. Anyone who planted their crops earlier could be regarded as an “April fool.” I wonder if the farmer who planted earlier and was rewarded with a huge crop was regarded as an “April genius.”

An English newspaper said in 1789, that the observance dated back to Noah who may have sent the raven off too early searching for land and this foolhardy act happened about April 1.

In doing research, the origin I found mentioned most often dealt with the change to the Gregorian calendar in France. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was adopted in France and the New Year was moved from March 25 to Jan. 1. The custom was to exchange gifts between March 25 and April 1. In the first few years, if someone forgot the new date and sent a gift on April 1, he was thought of as a “fool.” From there, the practice evolved into sending mock gifts with tongue-in-cheek revelry.

The English got into the act much later because they did not recognize the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Apparently, they decided the French were having so much fun with the day that they should join in on the fun. It should be added that the British may have used the holiday to make fun of the French who were their mortal enemies in those days.

In modern days, the media have jumped on board and carried out a variety of pranks.

One popular hoax came when BBC announced a bumper spaghetti harvest and featured film of trees loaded with spaghetti.

Of course, pranks can cross the line and such was the case in 1998 when a pair of Boston shock jocks announced the death of the mayor in an auto accident. Because the mayor was out of town and unavailable, the prank grew until news stations started issuing bulletins denying the tragedy.

The two shock jocks who started the rumor were fired. They learned that jokes can be in very bad taste and can result in serious problems.

I really don’t expect to see much in the way of jokes, even my grandchildren have gone beyond that stage, however, I still tighten the lid on the salt shaker before I use it. If you are planning an April Fools’ joke, keep it in good taste.

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