April, as a famous poet once observed, is the cruelest month, but certainly the poet was not referring to the cruelty of a lack of April holidays. In fact, April can, depending upon the lunar cycle, be the least cruel month of the year. Unless, of course, you are on the receiving end of the April holiday dedicated to usually harmless, but occasionally cruel, practical jokes.
April Fools' Day: April 1
This celebration of the commencement of April is a holiday with perhaps the most mysterious origins of them all. The conventional wisdom suggests that the idea of playing pranks and inflicting practical jokes upon unsuspecting friends or strangers can be traced back to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1564, which moved the New Year's Day holiday back to January. Those still celebrating the old New Year's Day in April were termed fools and were ridiculed with gag gifts and pranks. The fact that April Fools' Day was being celebrated in England even before they adopted the Gregorian calendar, however, raises questions as the authenticity of this explanation. Either way, on April 1 it's a good idea to take whatever you hear with a grain of salt.
Passover, Good Friday and Easter
April holidays don't always include Passover, Good Friday and Easter because they can fall anywhere from late March to late April. Good Friday and Easter are both vitally important days for commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but it was not until three centuries that a date was set for Easter.
At the Council of Nicaea convened by Emperor Constantine, the day celebrating Easter was made official. Until then, Easter could have been celebrated on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The Council decided that this sacred holiday should fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Confused yet? It gets even more so.
Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt. During Passover, people gather for a Seder meal, during which symbolic foods are eaten. Guests participate in discussion using a Haggadah that outlines the 15 steps of the Seder.
Like Christmas, Easter has become commercialized. In contrast to the highly religious observance of Passover, Easter has become as famous for its secular dimension as for its religious importance. Like many Christian holidays, Easter incorporates a great deal of pagan symbols, including the Easter Bunny and the practice of hiding and finding Easter eggs.
Earth Day: April 22
Earth Day began in 1969 as a celebration of the importance of protecting the environment, but it didn't gain mass popularity for decades, although it did help lead to the creation of several pro-environment acts and the Environmental Protection Agency. Worldwide acknowledgement that environmentalists had been right about a great many things all along has been a contributing factor in the revival of Earth Day in recent years. While the first Earth Day drew a mere 20 million participants, by 2007 an estimated billion people actively took part in celebrating the holiday.
Administrative Professionals Day: Wednesday of the Last Full Week in April
Originally known as Secretaries' Day, this April holiday was begun in the 1950s as an attempt to spur interest in becoming a secretary. The name change occurred in 1981 to recognize the changing atmosphere of office professionals. Administrative Professional's Day is today an unofficially sanctioned holiday recognizing the contributions of not just secretaries, but also a variety of administrative support positions.
Arbor Day: The Last Friday in April
Before Earth Day, the very first environmentally aware holiday in the nation also took place in April. Begun by J. Sterling Morton, a journalist who moved from the greenery of Michigan to the barren plains of Nebraska, Arbor Day began as an attempt to bring lush forestry to the treeless expands of America's Midwest. Arbor Day began life as state holiday in Nebraska with the purpose of setting aside a nice late spring day that would be perfect for planting much-needed trees.
The success of Nebraska's state holiday quickly spread across the Midwest and then across the country. Arbor Day was a holiday marked not by packaging gifts in brightly colored boxes, but in giving a gift to the planet. The end of the school year across America was characterized by busloads of students leaving school to help plant trees in their community. As late as the 1970s, students could be seen on a warm April day with shovels in hand, helping to preserve the environment. In recent decades, however, Arbor Day has all but disappeared of the calendar of April holidays.
Teaching children about the environment is possible by organizing Earth Day activities for kids. Educational and fun Earth Day celebrations are the first step in creating a generation that is compassionate and concerned about the planet. By helping children participate in Earth Day celebrations, no matter how big or small, they can help spread the word that the stewardship of the planet is a job for everyone.
Learn where this silly holiday originated with a brief history of April Fools' Day. Whether you are the prankster or the gullible one who falls for a gag, you are sure to be one of millions who are part of some kind of April Fools' Day prank on this lighthearted holiday.
Why is Arbor Day so important? While Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902) served as the Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, his most important legacy is the creation of Arbor Day. Today, all 50 US states and many countries around the world formally recognize the holiday, which highlights the value of trees in communities and the importance of planting them.
For centuries, April Fools' Day has been a time to play harmless pranks for April Fools' Day on friends and family members. Whether you choose to do a subtle prank or go all out, there are many gullible people out there that will fall for any number of tricks, but just make sure to watch your own back.