I was going to write an April Fool’s column announcing that I was giving up being cranky because there was nothing left to be cranky about. Then I remembered that John Boehner was still Speaker of the House and Kim Kardashian was still a celebrity. I realized I still had fodder.
But that got me thinking about the origins of April Fool’s Day, and like someone who thinks he’s a good journalist, I went to Wikipedia. It turns out that no one really knows the origins of April Fool’s Day, or even why it’s celebrated on April 1st. The date could possibly relate to a transcription error of Chaucer’s writings, and the concept could possibly relate to poking fun at people who celebrated April 1st as the beginning of the new year even after Pope Gregory XIII declared January 1st as the beginning of the new year.
That immediately got me wondering if that kind of designation is still in the Pope’s purview. What if the newly ordained Pope Francis I decided to make his birthday New Years’ Day? Can they do that stuff? If not, Pope Francis has been gypped, because that would be kind of cool. Confusing, but cool.
But the fact is, holidays are confusing. Call them holidaze if you want. Take Easter, which happened to come the day before April Fool’s Day this year. Have you ever thought about why, of all the major holidays, this one doesn’t sit still and behave? This is because in the year 325, the First Council of Nicaea established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox. This makes Easter the absolutely least favorite holiday of the math-challenged.
(This council was also the one who declared that Jesus was the son of God and thus divine. I’m telling you, nobody knew how to wield power like those old guys. Boehner and the Tea Party are pikers by comparison.)
And don’t think Easter was the only so-called “moveable feast.” Hasn’t it ever struck you as odd that Christmas is so close to the winter solstice? There’s a reason for that. Scholars have determined – based on celestial tracking, other dates in the Bible, and even when shepherds traditionally tend flocks of sheep at night – that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem sometime in late summer or early fall, not December. But early Christians worried that the pagan tradition of decorating trees in the winter was becoming too popular, so they decided (again, what power) to supersede such worship by celebrating Jesus’ birth about that time. Yes, they moved Christmas! The tradition of gifts under a decorated tree is a combination of the legend of the Magi bringing gifts to baby Jesus and the pagan worship of nature. Look it up.
And that wasn’t the only celebrations the Christians co-opted. Ever wonder about the confluence of Halloween and the end of the reaping season? Festivals of the dead (hence all the ghosts and goblins) got wrapped up in pagan harvest festivals. The connection to All Hallows’ Eve, just before All Saints Day on November 1, came later.
Of course, it wasn’t just those early clerics that moved holidays around. The tradition continues today. Abraham Lincoln designated Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November, and Franklin Roosevelt bumped it up to the fourth Thursday in November to goose the forlorn Depression economy. When I was in school, we used to celebrate both Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and Washington’s birthday on February 22nd, but somewhere along the way we got the agglomerated Presidents’ Day.
And it’s not just holidays. I would love it if everybody just stopped screwing around with the calendar in general. Stop moving up daylight savings time. Stop tweaking the day of the Oscar ceremony. And most important, stop bouncing the Super Bowl back and forth between January and February.
Those of us who are losing track of time as we get older would appreciate it if you left everything right where you found it.