Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy New Year!!...sort of...

There are several theories as to the origins of April Fools Day. The most likely scenario involves the introduction of the Gregorian calendar (the one we currently use) which replaced the Julian calendar in 1582. The Gregorian calendar is named for Pope Gregory XIII, who had called for the formulation of the new calendar and ordered its implementation. Among the new features that were introduced with the Gregorian calendar, the New Year was moved to January 1 from its previous date of April 1. The selection of the start of the calendar year may seem like an arbitrary matter (after all, what difference does it make which month begins the year), until one examines the reasons behind the decision.

Obviously our current celebration of the New Year marks the climax of a week-long celebration of Christ’s birth (a celebration which then continues for several days into the month of January). We celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, and this Feast builds up to the changing of the calendar year on January 1, to mark the number of years since the time of Jesus’ nativity. Similarly the old April 1 date was the climax of a week-long celebration of Jesus conception, which was (and still is) marked on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. We can see then that the two dates are not so arbitrary after all.

So we are presented with two competing ideass about which event ought to determine the changing of our calendars. Both of these have theological merit; both involve the Incarnation and divide time between that which came “Before Christ” (B.C.) and that which is “Anno Domini” (the Year of our Lord – A.D.). But with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, January 1 eventually won out, and replaced the April 1 celebration.

Yet there were those who openly resisted the new date for the New Year (or, due to lack of communication in those days, were simply unaware of the change) and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1. These people were referred to as April Fools, and were taunted and lampooned by the rest of society. April 1 became the Day of All Fools or April Fools Day.

Today we play pranks and make jokes at the expense of others and call them “April Fools” without much thought to the historic origins of this popular custom. I find it interesting to reflect on this day that April Fools has a Catholic origin. Perhaps in the true spirit of the day, those who (for whatever reason) do not acknowledge papal pronouncements or reject the authority of the Church as a divinely established institution ought to reflect on the folly of their ways...perhaps they are the true April Fools.

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