A People’s History of April Fools’ Day
Above: An engraving by Johann Michael Voltz depicting an April Fools’ Day riot against Jews in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1819.
Herschel Hoff is a professor of history and sociology at the City University of New York who specializes in the history of social movements and political activism. He’s written for Danger Zone, BoWwOw Magazine, A Bunch of Popsicle Sticks Stuck Together with Fudge, Taki’s Magazine, and other online publications. His book, A Riot of One’s Own: Activism, Alienation, and Change in the Internet Agewill be published by BARFY University Press this fall. What follows is an excerpt from that work that we thought it would be appropriate to publish in honor of the “holiday” today.
For centuries, April Fools’ Day—known by a number of names—has been associated with class, race, and social status. Many date the day’s origins to the Persian holiday of Sizdah Be-dar, or “Day of Far Too Many Puddings,” when traditionally the king would give everyone the day off on the condition that they all make and consume pudding until they vomit. This, according to Zoroastrianism, would purge men of all bad thoughts and spirits. Notably, however, the nobility was exempt from actually making any pudding and would often play cruel tricks on their slaves; thus, it was actually a festival that enforced class privilege rather than a day of rest and equality.
Other candidates for the “original” April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hillaria, a weeklong event that encouraged lying and homosexual horseplay, and the Feast of Fools, a holiday celebrated in medieval Europe on which children would be given authority over their elders. This latter occasion gradually evolved into the “Test of Fools,” which mainly consisted of townspeople quizzing each other on the Bible. Those who answered too many questions incorrectly were determined to be Jews and stoned to death. (This tradition was particularly popular in Scotland, where it became “Hunt-the-Gowk Day” [“Gowk” meaning “Jew” in Scots], which was banned in the 1970s.)
The tradition migrated to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, who instituted a “Day of Fools” day at the gold mines he owned in the West Indies. His slaves were only required to mine two pounds of gold each rather than four, and they were “rewarded” with a feast of roast pheasant that night. The real “trick,” however, was that Columbus, his mind by then addled by drinking from lead-lined goblets, forced the slaves to listen to his “light humorous verse” (mainly nonsensical doggerel that detailed Columbus’s fictional, and grotesque, sexual conquests). Those who did not laugh sufficiently, or consume enough pheasant, would have their tongues cut out.
100 Literary Rumors
I don’t know what you’ve heard but I’ve heard a lot of shit. People whispering in hallways and Gmail chatting about all kinds of dark secrets. People up in parties with their coat and hair all looking nice and their mouth just full of you wouldn’t even want to know. I’ll tell you anyway.
Lydia Davis can’t stand the sight of children wearing bike helmets.
Richard Brautigan never crossed state lines except on foot.
Jack London loved braiding men’s hair.
Matthew Rohrer claims to have never been inside or seen an ad for Chili’s.
Jack Kerouac was addicted to licking stamps.
Jhumpa Lahiri has collected more than 200 personally autographed headshots of Al Pacino.
“’Wow, cool sky!’” was the original first sentence of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
Gertrude Stein was on the payroll of the New York Mets.
Virginia Woolf passed the bar exam in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.
T.C. Boyle ghostwrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire.
Gordon Lish religiously eats at the Applebee’s on Times Square on the 13th and 18th of every month.
Michiko Kakutani‘s Gmail password is wolfdickfourteen.
Barry Hannah hated the sight of charcoal.
Gary Lutz has beaten Mike Tyson’s Punch Out more than 400 times.
From ages eight to 18, Ann Beattie earnestly believed she was born wrapped in a shower curtain.
Dave Eggers bathes in almond milk every Sunday and video records it.
Thomas Bernhard hated the color blue until the creation of Cookie Monster.
Angela Carter had an erotic fixation on pumping gas.
The wallpaper on Mary Jo Bang’s laptop is a photograph of Rod Stewart holding a baby up to the sun.
George Orwell wore a cock ring 24/7.
Andre Breton lost tens of thousands of dollars due to his inability to remember a flush beats a straight.
Marco Roth believes people who drive white cars are innately selfish by definition.
Samuel Beckett lost every game of chess he ever played by eventually conceding.
Karen Russell owns an original audio recording of Carmelo Anthony reading Gravity’s Rainbow aloud from beginning to end.
Joyelle McSweeney once threw a football so hard she burst all the veins in her right arm and had to have the arm surgically replaced with a fake.
Paul Auster has responded to over 8,000 missed connections ads on craigslist under various pseudonyms.
Though he can see fine, Michael Martone prefers to read in Braille.
Ron Silliman started a Kickstarter campaign under a pseudonym attempting to raise funds to buy the RZA’s childhood home.
Italo Calvino peed sitting down.
Mother Teresa Was a Jerk, and So Were a Bunch of Other Saints
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa, was a colossal fucking piece of shit. That’s not me talking, it’s not even the notoriously anti-Catholic, anti-TeresaChristopher Hitchens talking—it’s a study conducted by Canadian researchers, who called her “anything but a saint.” They accuse her of running unhygienic, undersupplied clinics even though she had access to millions of dollars of donated funds, claim she thought it was beautiful to see the poor suffer, and say that the “miracles” the Vatican claimed she performed were fake. (You mean, she didn’t cure some lady’s cancer through magic?) According to them, the Catholic Church ignored all of her flaws and canonized her because it desperately wanted the PR boost it would get from turning a celebrity into an saint and that the image of Teresa as a model of selflessness and charity is just that—an image.
But it’s not as if sainthood has historically been reserved for perfect individuals. There are over 10,000 saints recognized by the church—no one seems to know exactly how many—and they got canonized for all kinds of reasons and for all kinds of achievements. Some became saints because they didn’t have sex and then died miserably; some converted entire continents of unbelievers; some saints are entirely fictional; and some saints were just gaping, distended assholes. Like these guys:
[Note: I’ve excluded those saints who were horrible people before they converted to Christianity and went on to do great, heroic things, because if I put them in, we’d be here all day.]
OLAF II OF NORWAY
Olaf II Haraldsson, aka “Olaf the Stout,” was a pretty goddamn effective king of Norway back in the 11th century. The problem is, being an effective king then meant being a brutal murderer and tyrant. During his rule, he banned the worship of pagan gods, seized property from non-Christians, burned down heathen villages, and tortured and killed those who disagreed with him. He lost his kingdom after starting a war with another ruler, got exiled to Russia, and was killed while trying to retake his lands. So he wasn’t a nice guy, but a year later, some people dug up Olaf’s corpse, found that it hadn’t decayed, and were like, “Boom! He’s a saint now!” That’s just how things worked in 11th-century Scandinavia. It was a simpler time.
Obama’s State of the Union Speech, Decoded
What he said:
“[The American people] don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.”
What he meant:
“OK, Republicans, guys, for fuck’s sake: We have to raise the debt ceiling in order to pay the bills we’ve already said we would pay. We have to do this every time it comes up. You tried to attach spending cuts to the debt-ceiling bill—you try to attach spending cuts to everything—but guess what? I called you out for your ridiculous, politically untenable position, you gave in to reason, and now we will probably have to do this again in 90 days. Let’s compromise on this, by which I mean stop being incredible assholes.”
What he said:
“So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.”
What he meant:
“Your party has a bunch of nutjobs in it who refuse to do anything but cut spending. This ‘strategy’ has hurt our bond rating in the past, but your real problem is that these negotiations just make people like me more. So let’s pass a budget for the first time since 2009, for the love of Christ. If we don’t, everyone’s going to blame you, not me.” [Makes “suck it” gesture, then raises arms into the air as if to say, “You wanna piece of this?”]
Introducing Power Moves by Karl Welzein, a new column from twitter’s @DadBoner.
HOW NOT TO GET BURNED BY FAKE COMPUTER BABES LIKE THAT MANTI TE’O WEIRDO
‘Sup. Name’s Karl Welzein, hailing from Grand Blanc, MI. If you’re chill, pretty much everyone knows me as “Captain Karl,” but on the streets, the smooth soul brothers call me “K-Money” due to my mad swag.
A few ticks back, I decided to get into the online computer dating scene ‘cause I kinda burned through all the local babes in my area. I style and profile 24/7, 365, open on Sundays, so they all crave my touch. It’s natural and consensual when you’re livin’ the bad boy lifestyle.
Also, my roommate Dave told me he’s on a break from solo carnal passions ‘til he has a nocturnal emish, ‘cause he heard Sting does it to cleanse his bod from erotic clogs of the past. Dave’s such a grossout. I told him, “past eroticisms shouldn’t be purged from the mind. A real man saves ‘em up for when you’re in a situaish without babe opportunities.” Can’t live that way. Dave maybe can bottle up his guy urges, but it’s not healthy when you’re 100% all beef with High-T like myself.