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Simpsons did it!

The best April Fool’s prank that I ever witnessed happened during college. I was duped by it for a little while, but I had nothing personally vested in it so felt no shame upon realizing the joke. I was a physics major and was therefore always surrounded by physics majors. One year on April first, a couple of the dorkier of the physics majors (and considering that we were all dorky, this is saying A LOT) started going around and quietly asking classmates if they would be willing to take a road trip to the University of Madison to see a certain Stephen Hawking give a lecture. They had heard from a friend of a friend that he would be there. The university wanted to keep his appearance on the QT and very hush hush so as not to be inundated with flock upon flock of nerds stepping over each other to get a glimpse at one of the smartest men in the world. I can just imagine the retainers and pocket protectors flying as pushing and shoving gave way to numerous slap fights, ultimately culminating into a LARP-a-thon with “Fireball!” being shouted ad nauseum.

I had to work that evening, otherwise I would’ve been one of those slap happy LARPers, and thank God that I did have to work because it allowed me remove myself from the excitement of the events, until I, quite accidentally, was the pin that popped the happy little fantasy bubble of my co-students.

As the day went on, the number of people planning to attend the lecture grew, and plans were finalized as to who should drive and where exactly they were going, something occurred to me. The dorks who originally approached everyone with news of the lecture were having a hard time finding anyone else who knew where or when it would take place. They were frantically making calls down to the university, but were not daunted by the walls they kept hitting. I finally realized the truth while I was talking to the ringleader of the group. “Hey,” realizing that the words I spoke were the only rational explanation even as I spoke them, “I wonder if this is all an April fool’s day prank.”

As the revelation of my words quickly sunk in, the ringleader simultaneously looked at me as if I had kicked his dog and began lowering his head in shame. He turned to the others who were planning on going down to see Mr. Hawking.

“Do you guys realize what day it is?”

“It’s April firsssson of a bitch.”

It was glorious.

In the episode of the Simpsons that revolves around April fool’s day pranks, Lisa explains that the tradition originated in the 11th century. The Christians had had their calendars changed so that the new year fell on January 1st. The Godless heathen pagans celebrated on the “traditional” new year, April 1st. The Christians, being the first early adopters (get it?!?!), would make fun of the pagans by pranking them or sending them on fool’s errands.

It turns out that they got the explanation right. Kinda. Maybe.

Instead of the 11th century, the change happened in the 16th century in France under King Charles IX. Instead of the Godless heathens vs. Christians, the problem with people not celebrating the proper new years was the slow transfer of information at the time. There were no newspaper deliveries to inform people of the change, and many people in more rural areas were unaware of the change for years. Even then, some purists decided to celebrate the original new year the way and day that they always knew. This is what brought on the pranks. The early adopters would then prank those who were truly behind the times.

Unfortunately, even this explanation doesn’t truly explain all. There are a couple of references to April Fool’s that occurred before King Charles IX changed the calendar. These references are rather cryptic, though, and can be easily dismissed. Plus the tradition of April Fool’s day spread across Europe much faster than the change in New Year’s day did. Why call someone an April Fool for no apparent reason. I mean, that’s just silly.

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