April 1, 2020
Day 92 of 366
April 1st is the ninety-second day of the year. It is traditionally observed as April Fools’ Day, but we don’t do that here.
It is Edible Book Day, an annual international event where “edible books” are created, displayed, photographed, and then consumed.
In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National One Cent Day, National Sourdough Bread Day, Childhelp National Day of Hope, and National Walking Day. The last two are typically observed on the first Wednesday in April.
Historical items of note:
- In 33 AD, according to one historian’s account, Jesus Christ’s Last Supper was held.
- In 1789, the United States House of Representatives achieved its first quorum at Federal Hall in New York City. Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected as the first Speaker.
- In 1826, Samuel Morey received a patent for a compressionless “Gas or Vapor Engine”.
- In 1873, the White Star Line steamer RMS Atlantic sank off Nova Scotia. 547 deaths were reported in one of the worst marine disasters of the 19th century.
- In 1883, actor, director, and screenwriter Lon Chaney was born.
- In 1891, the Wrigley Company was founded in Chicago, Illinois.
- In 1893, the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy was established. It is still uncertain how soon after this point that they started carrying coffee cups everywhere and refusing to wash them.
- In 1917, Sydney Newman was born. He was a Canadian screenwriter and producer, and he was the co-creator of Doctor Who.
- In 1918, the Royal Air Force was created by the merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
- In 1920, actor and writer Toshiro Mifune was born.
- In 1924, the Royal Canadian Air Force was formed.
- In 1926, writer Anne McCaffrey was born.
- In 1930, actress and singer Grace Lee Whitney was born. She portrayed Janice Rand on Star Trek.
- In 1932, actress and singer Debbie Reynolds was born.
- In 1937, the Royal New Zealand Air Force was formed as an independent service.
- In 1947, the only mutiny in the history of the Royal New Zealand Navy began.
- In 1952, actress Annette O’Toole was born. She was Lana Lang in Superman III and Martha Kent in Smallville.
- In 1954, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the creation of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado.
- In 1960, the TIROS-1 satellite transmitted the first television picture from space.
- In 1969, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier entered service with the Royal Air Force. It was the first operational fighter aircraft with Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing capabilities.
- In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law, requiring the Surgeon General’s warnings on tobacco products and banning cigarette advertising on television and radio in the United States. It went into effect on January 1, 1971.
- In 1976, Apple Inc. was formed by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in Cupertino, California.
- Also in 1976, actor David Oyelowo was born.
- In 1979, Iran became an Islamic republic by a 99% vote, officially overthrowing the Shah.
- In 1983, actor Matt Lanter was born.
- In 2001, same-sex marriage became legal in the Netherlands, which became the first contemporary country to allow it.
- In 2004, Google announced Gmail to the world.
April 1st is well-known as April Fools’ Day, a day of practical jokes, tomfoolery, and (in general) not believing a thing you read on the internet.
Origins of the holiday are disputed and various. One such origin is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales from 1392. In the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, a vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox on Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. While some readers apparently interpreted this as the 32nd of March, or rather April 1st, the text of the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” also states that the story takes place on the day when the sun is in the signe of Taurus had y-runne Twenty degrees and one, which does not align with April 1st. Modern scholars attribute this to a copying error in the manuscripts over time, believing that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. That would point to a date 32 days after March, which would be May 2nd. That’s also the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381.
In 1508, French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (an April fool, literally “fish of April”), which is possibly the first reference to the celebration in France. Similarly, in 1561, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1st.
There are also suggestions that April Fools’ originated due to calendar changes. In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns, with a holiday that in some areas of France ended on April 1. Those who celebrated New Year’s Eve on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates by the invention of April Fools’ Day. Observance of January 1st as New Year’s Day became common in France only in the mid-16th century, and the date was not adopted officially until 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.
In the Netherlands, the origin of April Fools’ Day is often attributed to the Dutch victory in 1572 at Brielle, where the Spanish Duke Álvarez de Toledo was defeated. The Dutch proverb Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril can be translated as: “On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses.” In this case, “bril” (which is “glasses” in Dutch) serves as a homonym for Brielle. But, this theory provides no explanation for the international celebration of April Fools’ Day.
Finally, in 1686, John Aubrey referred to the celebration as “Fooles holy day”, which marks the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.
Following with these potential origin stories across Europe, it’s understandable why the tradition is held so strongly in the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Belgium, Ireland, Poland, the Nordic regions, Ukraine, Lebanon, most of the Spanish-speaking world, and Canada.
In the internet age, practical jokes have taken on a whole new dimension. The Nordic countries traditionally publish one false news story, typically on the front page but not above the fold, as an annual gag, but the internet expands the reach to the entire world. While some pranks are harmless – ThinkGeek, for example, generates advertisements for absurd collectibles that can actually become real if enough customers vote for them – others carry the joke too far by generating false news stories that gullible people defend as real. Which can be dangerous in an era of fraudulent news stories, identity theft, and cyberwarfare.
The internet age has taken April Fools’ Day to a new level, challenging us all to define the difference between innovative creativity and manipulative deception.
I have made it a point in my creative channels to either not participate or to make the joke blatantly obvious to the most casual observer. I like a good laugh as much as the next person, but not at the expense of deceiving people in the long run. There’s enough of that in the world as it is.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.