April Fool’s Day and Easter coincide this year, with both falling on Sunday.
I wondered why it had happened — and why I hadn’t heard of it happening before. I learned the phenomena is relatively rare, having last occurred in 1956.
During the 20th century, Easter and April Fool’s Day aligned four times. This year’s celebrations mark the first convergence of the 21st century. It will happen again in 2029, then 2040. After that, not until the 2100s.
Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus and is central to Christian faith. Unlike Christmas and many other widely observed Christian celebrations, Easter doesn’t fall on a fixed date.
That’s because Easter consciously harks to Christianity’s Jewish roots. In the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus’ last days — or “Holy Week” — align his movements around Jerusalem’s Passover preparations. (Chapter 13 of John outlines Holy Week events but doesn’t specify Passover.)
Jesus, an observant Jew, took part in the seder meal at Passover. Christian historians note Matthew (chapter 26) Mark (14) and Luke (22) mark this as the “Lord’s Supper,” when Jesus gave instructions to his disciples and instituted what would be carried on as holy communion.
This led to calculating Easter from Passover. Passover shifts because Judaism uses a lunar calendar, placing Passover on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. As a result, Easter can occur anytime between March 22 and April 25.
Obviously, April Fool’s Day is a distinctly different holiday — one that emphasizes joviality and small and elaborate pranks.
According to many sources, the origin of April Fool’s Day is a mystery. Time magazine notes a credible claim that the observance evolved from Hilaria, a Greco-Roman festival once celebrated on March 25. Hilaria focused on the vernal equinox, which began the Julian calendar’s new year.
Central to Hilaria was worship of Rhea, or Cybele in Latin — wife of Cronos and mother of Zeus, notes Bulfinch’s Mythology. These ancient celebrations included parades, jokes and lavish parties.
From this holiday, Time follows two lines of reasoning for the origin of April Fool’s Day. One is that when the Christian world adopted the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, those still on the Julian calendar were “fooled” when the new year moved to Jan. 1. Others believe the ancient April new year festivities eventually evolved into a time for pulling pranks.
That makes for a long road to Easter-themed jokes. Or does it? April 1 aside, there is room for levity in religious settings.
Kurt Vonnegut shared observations on Jesus’ humor in “Palm Sunday,” a sermon he reproduced in his 1981 autobiographical collection of the same name.
He delivered the message on Palm Sunday in 1980 at an Episcopal church, using Matthew 26. The passage includes Jesus’ last Passover observance and a “divine black joke, well suited to the occasion,” Vonnegut wrote.
He was referring to Jesus’ comment to Judas: “For you always have the poor with you.”
“It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor,” Vonnegut explained. “It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil but to chide him about his hypocrisy just the same.”
That’s a long way from an April Fool’s joke. However, it’s a good reminder to look at faith from many angles.
Incidentally, this is my favorite “Palm Sunday” quote: “Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”