Shabbat April Fools 2016/5776
Hear or see any good April Fools jokes today? The Washington Post recalled in an article yesterday about April Fools Day, an event that happened in 1957.
Ah, April. A month of cherry blossoms and light cardigans, birds twittering and taxes being filed. And, of course, peak harvest season for Switzerland’s world-famous spaghetti crop, which, thanks to an exceptionally mild winter, was experiencing a bumper year in 1957.
If you’re thinking, “Huh?” well, then, good on you for being better informed than the average BBC viewer at the time. When the British news network aired a three-minute segment about Swiss spaghetti farmers plucking long strands of pasta straight from tree branches, hundreds of credulous viewers wrote in asking how they could cultivate their own spaghetti tree.
The BBC replied, with quintessentially British aplomb: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Should I be surprised that several BCC members let me know this week that they were expecting we would somehow mark April Fools Day at this service? “Nobody likes an April Fools joke as much as you, Rabbi,” someone said to me the other day with a knowing smile.
While it’s true I do like a good (never cruel) April Fools joke, I’m pretty sure it’s not really true that I enjoy them more than anyone.
Perhaps I was born to like April Fools. For among the theories as to how it came about (no one is sure) are two that involve my birthday, March 25 (that is, they involve March 25 though not because it’s my birthday). Some historians believe that April Fools’ Day has its origins in ancient Rome, with a festival known as “Hilaria.” Usually celebrated March 25, according to William Smith’s “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities,” (and reported yesterday in the washington post) Hilaria was a day for games, masquerades and generally whiling away the day with relentless mocking — not even local magistrates were immune.
The other March 25 connection is that it came about when the Gregorian calendar changed its new year from the week of March 25 to the first week in January (around 1582 in France). In other words, my birthday – March 25 – used to be New Years Day. What that has with April Fools Day is that people who were slow to pick up on the change in the calendar that first year or two, and continued to celebrate the new years from March 25 through April 1, were made fun of. Called, you guessed it – April Fools.
Nearness to my birthday or not, I think I like April Fools Day for a lot of the same reasons I like the rollicking, topsy-turvy, costumed extravanganza that is the Jewish holiday of Purim. Oh, did you know I like Purim? If you were here last week for that most rollicking of Jewish holidays, you probably do know that!
Mainly, I think I like Purim and April Fools because I like to laugh. I like the way laughter makes me feel better physically, and the way, when feelings of anxiety creep up on me, laughter can help dispel it. In fact, dispel is exactly the right word for it, meaning “to break up, drive away, cause to disappear.”
I know I don’t need to tell you that these are some high anxiety times we’ve been living in lately. And while I take the causes of the anxiety seriously (and there are many causes) – and while I work as best I can to help to root out some of those causes – help to rid the world of them – I also appreciate the simple cure laughter provides for the uneasy queasy feeling they impose on me, even as we struggle together to change the world for the better.
Another thing I like about Purim and April Fools frivolity is that even though historians aren’t sure of the origins of such frivolity, we know it dates way, way back. And I like that not simply because I’m interested in history. I like that for its simple reminder that the times we live in weren’t the only anxious times human beings have experienced. And the personal causes of anxiety also aren’t new — we follow in a long line of people who have good reason to be anxious. Now I hope you know me well enough to know that I like that we have company in our anxiety not because I wish anxiety on others, I don’t, not even others who are long gone. Only that I find it comforting that Jews and human beings in general have long understood the curative power of laughter, of playfulness, of humor.
Oh by the way, recent research suggests that humans aren’t the only animals that like to laugh. Though we know some animals make a laughing sound when tickled (rats, for example), it appears also likely that various apes and other animals have a sense of humor and actually make jokes. Some of the research suggest that the sound of laughter in apes actually serves as a signal that the actions and reactions are not to be perceived as threatening.
And isn’t it the same for us. Laughter and a smile …It’s another way — like an open handed greeting that shows we carry no weapons – to show we are approaching each other open-hearted and in peace. May the day come soon when every approach is exactly that —