British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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186                                all fools' day.                      [April i.
giving the alarm to a sentinel by the way, but, unfortunately for her, yet happily for the fugitives, although she may have forgotten that it was All Fool's Day, the soldiers on guard had not. The information was treated with the utmost contempt, the soldiers declining to be made game of, and while the royal prison-breakers got clear off, it is said that the luckless informer was soundly buffetted by the guard for her ill-timed jocularity. This version of the story, however, goes to prove nothing beyond the fact that the custom of making April fools was well known in the time of Louis XIII., but in nowise accounts for the curious expression poisson d'Avril; while the swimming story explains the fish, but leads one to believe that the incident was the origin of the dedication of the 1st of April to fools.
Another curious explanation of this peculiar custom, giving it a Jewish origin, has also been suggested. It is said to have begun from the mistake of Noah sending the dove out of the Ark before the water had abated on the first day of the Hebrew month, answering to our month of April, and to perpetuate the memory of this deliverance it was thought proper, whoever forgot so remarkable a circumstance, to punish them by sending them upon some sleeveless errand similar to that ineffectual message upon which the bird was sent by the patriarch.—Public Advertiser, April 13th, 1769.
Maurice, in his Indian Antiquities (vi. 71), says that the custom prevailing both in England and India had its origin in the ancient practice of celebrating with festival rites the period of the vernal equinox, or the day when the new year of Persia anciently began.
Addison, in the Spectator, referring to the year 1711, remarks that " a custom prevails everywhere among us on the 1st of April, when everybody takes it in his head to make as many fools as he can. A neighbour of mine—a very shallow, conceited fellow, makes his boast that for these ten years successively he has not made less than a hundred April fools. My landlady had a falling-out with him, about a fortnight ago, for sending every one of her children upon some.'"sleeveless errand," as she terms it. Her eldest son went to buy a halfpenny-worth of inkle at a shoemaker's ; the eldest daughter was dispatched half a mile to see a
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