Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools' Day

While no one is absolutely sure, most people speculate that our modern version of April Fool's Day has pagan origins. Almost every culture in the world has some kind of festival in the first months of the year to celebrate the end of winter and the return of spring. (Who wouldn't want to celebrate that?) Anthropologists call these “renewal festivals.” Often they involve ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule.

"Misrule!" is actually an exclamation used in the revels of the ancient cult of Misrule in the UK, a cult that worships the horned god, the black man of the sabbat. During such festivals, wearing disguises is common, and people play pranks on friends and strangers. The social order is temporarily inverted. Servants might get to order around their employers. Children get to challenge the authority of parents and teachers. However, the disorder is always finite, and tensions are defused with laughter and comedy. The social order is symbolically challenged, but then restored (reaffirming the stability of the society), just as the cold months of winter temporarily challenge biological life, and yet the cycle of life continues, returning with the spring. All this nonsense, in other words, have theological justifications.

Our secular April Fool’s Day has all the characteristics of one of these renewal festivals. For one day, behaviors that are normally not allowed (lying, deception, playing pranks) become acceptable, and yet by the end of the day, it is over. Social hierarchies and their tensions are exposed, but the hostility this time is defused with laughter. Society, structured as we know it, lives another day.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Thank you for sharing it. I'm going to share it on my facebook.


Comments are welcome but moderated. Please be respectful when leaving a comment.