Open main menu

Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/April

APRIL was, in the old Roman reckoning, the second month of the year, but is counted in the Julian calendar as the fourth. The derivation of the name is unknown, though as far back as Varro we find the traditional etymology, omnia aperit, “it opens everything,” which is supported by comparison with the modern Greek use of ἄνοιξις (opening) for spring; while some would make out a connection with Aphrodite (Venus), and Grimm suggests the name of a hypothetical god or hero, Aper or Aprus. Among the Romans this month was sacred to Venus, the Festum Veneris et Fortunæ Virilis being held on the first day. On the fourth and the five following days, games (Ludi Megalenses) were celebrated in honour of Cybele; on the fifth there was the Festum Fortunæ Publicæ; on the tenth (?) games in the circus, and on the nineteenth, equestrian combats, in honour of Ceres; on the twenty-first—which was regarded as the birthday of Rome—the Vinalia urbana, when the wine of the previous autumn was first tasted; on the twenty-fifth, the Robigalia, for the averting of mildew; and on the twenty-eighth and four following days, the riotous Floralia. In many countries of Europe, as England, France, and Germany, the first of April has for long been appropriated to a facetious custom, for which no very satisfactory origin has been assigned. To send an unsuspecting or ignorant person on some bootless errand is the great endeavour of the day. In Scotland the unfortunate subject of the trick is called a gowkwhich has now, though the words were probably at one time different, the meaning both of “fool” and cuckoo,”—and the mischievous errand-sending is “hunting a gowk.” In France the dupe is called poisson d'Avril, or April-fish. One remarkable theory traces the custom to Noah, as sending out his dove on such a quest; it is also referred either to the miracle plays representing the sending of our Saviour from Annas to Caiaphas and from Pilate to Herod, or to the change, in France, in 1564, of New Year's day to the first of January, which left the first of April destitute of anything but a burlesque of its former festivities; and more recently an identification has been attempted with the Hindoo festival of Huli, which is celebrated in a similar manner on the 31st of March. No references to all-fools'-day have been found in our earlier literature; and it seems that both England and Germany have derived the fashion from France. St George's day is the twenty-third of the month; and St Mark's Eve, with its superstition about those who were doomed to die, falls on the twenty-fourth. In China the symbolical ploughing of the earth by the emperor and princes of the blood takes place in their third month, which frequently corresponds to our April; and in Japan a pleasant domestic festival, called the feast of Dolls, is celebrated in the same month. The days of April (journées d'Avril) is a name appropriated in French history to a series of insurrections at Lyons, Paris, and elsewhere, against the government of Louis Philippe in 1834, which led to violent repressive measures, and to a famous trial known as the Procès d'Avril. (See Chambers's Book of Days; Grimm's Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache, cap. “Monate.”)