The history of April Fool’s Day is, according to the briefest of Internet searches, a bit muddy. Many sources trace it back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s, some back even further to when Noah released one of his doves too early, before the flood waters had receded. These claims, however, are way off. Friday marks just the 200th anniversary of April Fool’s Day. And I should know because the true origins of the holiday are, I am foolishly revealing here for the first time, linked directly to my Norwegian ancestors.
My great-great-great-grandmother was born April Hoey exactly 200 years ago in Kjelvik, Norway. Her name was pronounced “Howie,” not “hooey,” so you know I am not trying to play a joke on you. Hoey is Old Norse for High Island and the family name came from the island off the coast of Kjelvik where generations of April’s ancestors fished for a living. If you search for Kjelvik on a map you may not find it. Again, this is not because I am trying to play a joke on you. Kjelvik was completely destroyed by the Germans in 1944 and when it was finally rebuilt in 1950 it was named Nordkapp. It’s true, look it up.
Anyway, April’s father, Haldor, was the last of the Hoey men to try to make a living as a fisherman. His brothers all moved inland to become dairy farmers after their father returned from a trip on the water one day, collapsed onto his deathbed and, when asked how the fishing had been, used his last breath to respond “mongana moosh,” which is Norwegian, or something, for “not even a bite.” This was a sign to all but Haldor, who continued to foolishly fish the waters around High Island despite not getting even a bite his first season. Haldor watched his brothers prosper, but refused to join them, thinking it undignified to place your hands on a cow’s teats. He instead started a campaign to father a son who could help him in the boat, but after delivering 18 daughters in 17 years his wife said to an eager Haldor, “mongana tanke,” which is Norwegian, or something, for “don’t even think about it.”
The last of these daughters, April, was born April 1, 1811. She loved her father above all else and was the only daughter who accompanied him on his fishing expeditions. From the age of two she sat in the bow while her father trolled, cast and jigged around High Island. Over time April came to embrace Haldor’s violent dislike of milk and his belief that someday the fish would return to High Island and that when that day came he alone would be ready to catch them.
But the fish did not return. After more than 40 years without even a bite the locals began referring to Haldor as “that old fool” and “Haldor the Fool.” Soon April saw neighbors whispering about her, too. She had nightmares of dying an old maid and being labeled “April the Fool.” Fortunately, by the age of 18 she met a nice young man who asked for her hand. Unfortunately, his name was Brynjar Fool. April took solace in the fact that her name would be just April Fool, not April the Fool, and that in old Norse Brynjar means “love warrior.” Which, coincidentally, was my nickname in college.
Haldor, meanwhile, was not pleased to be losing his only deck hand to marriage and on the morning of the wedding he took off in his boat and yelled “mongana gifte seg!,” which is Norwegian, or something, for “no daughter of mine will marry a fool!” These were the last words anyone heard from Haldor, for during the wedding reception his boat, minus Haldor, washed up on the shores of Kjelvik.
April, racked with guilt, decided she would continue to fish the waters around High Island herself. After many years without even a bite the locals took pity on her and started throwing a huge town-wide party for her every year on her birthday. On April Fool’s day there was dancing, and toasting and celebrating until April shoved off in her boat, at which point the locals spent the rest of the day pranking each other and doing foolish things in April’s name.
I’m pretty sure this story is all true, even if you can’t look it up. But if you don’t believe it, I guess I can’t blame you. Even my own son, citing his doubts that I was ever called “love warrior,” said, “nobody is gonna buy that story, Dad… mongana tosk,” which is Norwegian, or something, for “not even a fool.”