The first of April is known as April Fools’ Day (originally All Fools Day) and an April gowk was the name given to those who had been fooled. The old custom was common in Germany being mentioned in about 1656 but it didn’t become popular here until the late 17th century. Nowadays, it has become on the whole the preserve of some children. Gone are the days when youngsters and apprentices were sent on a fool’s errand for elbow grease, left-handed cups or a book about Eve’s mother.
In 1957 the BBC played a trick on a ‘Panorama’ programme with a film of a supposed harvesting of spaghetti trees, presumably more plausible then because spaghetti was not that common in English cuisine. Another later hoax, probably in the 1980’s, announced that trips down the Solent were planned on HMS Victory. Even now it is not wise to believe all the newspaper articles on 1st April. Similarly in the North of England, May Day Eve was celebrated as ‘Mischief Night’ when the young had the right to play tricks.
In April, we have important days to celebrate starting with Palm Sunday, the sixth Sunday in Lent, when we recall that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. This event is recorded in John’s Gospel (12:12-13) when excited crowds greeted Him with waving palm leaves and chanting, “Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel who comes in the name of The Lord.” This joyful day comes before the sad mood of Good Friday, five days later. Palm trees are not native plants in our country but many churches purchase palm crosses to distribute to their congregations. Pussy willow and other greenery would have been gathered for home decorations in this country.
On Maundy Thursday, Queen Elizabeth continues the tradition of giving small purses of Maundy money to elderly, worthy people, the number of which corresponds with her age. Now, the custom takes place at a different cathedral every year. The custom was based on the account of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples after their meal (an event that we always remember on Maundy Thursday). The word ‘maundy’ comes from ‘command’. The monarch no longer washes feet as this custom died out many years ago.
There are quite a number of traditional customs in various parts of our country but Hot Cross Buns continue to be popular everywhere. Now, as we know, these can be bought in supermarkets over many weeks. There is an old street rhyme:
Hot cross buns, hot cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns,
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns.
The cross on the bun signifies the crucifixion. In a few Herefordshire churches the custom of ‘Pax Cakes’ takes place on Palm Sunday when small, shortbread biscuits stamped with the words, “Peace and good neighbourhood” are handed out to the congregation by the vicar but it seems that these cakes have now been changed to a simple biscuit. What a shame!
Eggs are popular at Easter, of course, to signify new life and resurrection. Again, the modern way is for shops to sell them from the New Year. Parents organise ‘Easter Egg Hunts’ and ‘Egg Rolling’ for their children. Many schools organise Easter Bonnet making, often as a competition. One doesn’t hear so much about new clothes or new hats bought to be worn on Easter Sunday nowadays.
This year in Bavaria, Germany in Oberammergau, the Passion Play will be performed. This tradition started in 1654 after deliverance from the Plague when the community made an oath to show gratitude to God. It is performed every ten years and David and I have been to the 2000 and 2010 performances, as have others in the church, so we can recommend a visit. The whole village takes part although there are strict rules about eligibility. The play, with acting and singing, goes through Holy Week and it is both moving and memorable.
The organisation of the event is fantastic bearing in mind that hundreds and thousands of people world-wide attend over the months it is performed. It must be a great honour to be chosen to be in the play.
Somehow our Christmas celebrations seem to have taken place so recently, when we remembered the birth of Jesus but without Christmas, we cannot have Easter. Jesus was born to die for us so, when you eat your Hot Cross Buns and chocolate eggs, remember what they mean.
Happy Easter Celebration.