Fourth Month Dunce

Fourth Month Dunce

The curious custom of joking on the first of April, sending the ignorant or the unwary on fruitless errands, for the sake of making them feel foolish and having a laugh at them, prevails very widely in the world. And whether you call the victim a “Fourth month dunce,” an “April fool,” an “April fish” (as in France), or an “April gowk” (as in Scotland), the object, to deceived him, is everywhere the same.

Image from Lectures on India By Caleb Wright - 1851

The custom has been traced back for ages; all through Europe, as far back as the records go. The “Feast of Foofs” is mentioned as celebrated by the ancient Romans. In Asia the Hindoos have a festival, ending on the 31st of March, called the “Huli festival,” in which they play the same sort of first of April pranks, — translated into Hindoo, — laughing at the victim and making him a “Huli fool.” It goes back even to Persia, where it is supposed to have a beginning, in very ancient times, in the celebration of spring, when their New Year begins.

How it came to be what we everywhere find it, the wise men cannot agree. The many authorities are so divided, that I see no way but for us to accept the custom as we find it, wherever we may happen to be, and be careful not to abuse it.

Some jokes are peculiar to particular places. In England, where it is called All Fools’ Day, one favorite joke is to send the greenhorn to a bookseller to buy the “Life and Adventures of Eve’s Grandmother,” or to a cobbler to buy a few cents’ worth of “strap oil,” — strap oil being, in the language of the shoe-making brotherhood, a personal application of the leather. The victim usually gets a good whipping with a strap.

There was an old superstition in England that prayers to the Virgin at eight o’clock on All Fools’ Day would be of wonderful efficacy, and it is seriously mentioned by grave writers of old days.

In Scotland the first of April fun is called “hunting the gowk,” and consists most often of sending a person to another a long way off, with a note which says, “Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient of the note gives him a new missive to still another, containing the same words; and so the sport goes on, till the victim remembers the day of the month, and sits down to rest and think about it.

In France, where the custom is very ancient, the jokes are much the same; but the victim is called an “April fish,” because he is easily caught. In one part of France there is a custom of eating a certain kind of peas which grow there, called pois chiches. The joke there is to send the peasants to a certain convent to ask for those peas, telling them that the fathers are obliged to give some to every one who comes on that day. The joke is as much on the monks as on the peasants, for there is often a perfect rush of applicants all day.

A more disagreeable custom prevails in Lisbon on the first of April, when the great object is to pour water on passers by, or, failing in that, to throw powder in their faces. If both can be done, the joker is happy.

I need not tell you the American styles of joking; nailing a piece of silver to the sidewalk; tying a string to a purse, and jerking it away from greedy fingers; leaving tempting-looking packages, filled with sand, on door-steps; frying doughnuts with an interlining of wool; putting salt in the sugar bowl, etc. You know too many already.

St. Nicholas for April.

Lyons Weekly Mirror – (Lyons, Iowa) Mar 24, 1877

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