"April cold with dropping rain,
Willows and Lilacs brings againThe whistle of returning birds,
And trumpet-lowing of the herds."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
April with its showers that bring the May flowers is upon us. With its coming, jumpropes, skates, skateboards, jacks, tops, marbles, scooters and bicycles will come out of hiding, and the air will ring with children's laughter. Windows will be cleaned, dead grass raked, and maybe the lilacs will bloom again.
April is an exciting month. It was named for aprilis, a Latin word meaning "to open." It has not always been the fourth month of the year. Historians tell us that from 46 B.C. to 1564 A.D. it was the second month of the year on the Julian calendar. During that time the New Year celebration began on March 21 and ended April 1st, thus making April 1st New Year's Day. When the Gregorian calendar appeared, April became the fourth month.
France was the first to accept the Gregorian calendar, but because news traveled slowly in 1564, many were unaware of the change for quite some time. Some people continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1 and were teased and ridiculed. This began the custom of April Fools' Day. By 1600 Fools' Day had become popular in England and soon spread to other countries as the new calendar was adopted. Some counties had special names for people fooled on this day. In France they were called "April Fish." In England they were called "April Noddie" or "April Gobby" or "AprilGob." In Scotland the name was "April Gowk" meaning cuckoo.
In 1760 these lines were written on "Poor Robin's Almanack,"
"The first of April some do say
Is set apart for All Fools Day
But why the people call it so
Nor I nor they themselves do know."
April Fools' Day cannot be called
a holiday, but neither is it an ordinary day. It is the one day in 365 when it is permissible to fool someone if you can. The custom is not encouraged in the schools, but teachers still endure it. It is not a popular subject for writers or poets or composers, but still it is in the minds of people, so we can still expect to be fooled on April 1.
April has been credited with another day of tradition. The first Arbor Day in American was observed in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. Julius Sterling Morton, a member of the State Board of Agriculture realized that trees would enrich the soil and conserve moisture, and it was through his efforts that his state observed Arbor Day.
After his death the date was changed to April 22, his birthday, and was made a legal holiday in Nebraska. It is said that on that first Arbor Day, 1 million trees were planted by Nebraskans. During the next 16 years, 350,000 trees were planted on Arbor Day, changing the face of a treeless prairie state. Other states also recognized the value of planting trees, but it was not always feasible in April because weather conditions varied.
In the Southern states and Hawaii Arbor Day may be observed between December and March. California has March 7, Luther Burbank's birthday as its Arbor Day. The Northern States find April and May a good time for them. Most provinces in Canada celebrate an Arbor Day and many others have similar days.
One book stated that Arbor Day is a legal holiday in six states, Arizona, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. But it is observed in every state of the Union either by proclamation of the governor or by the Board of Education. It is not celebrated as a legal holiday now in Utah but is observed by proclamation of the governor on the last Friday in April.
Utah schoolchildren have planted trees on this day. School grounds, parks, hospitals, churches, homes and roadside areas have been made lovelier by their efforts.
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed comes to mind in connection with Arbor Day. He is supposed to have contributed to the beauty of states from Massachusetts to Ohio by planting apple trees. In the book "Tall Tales, America," author Walter Blair states that even today if you (1) go to a certain part of Ohio at Apple Blossom time; (2) get up before sunrise; and (3) go to a certain old apple tree; you'll see the smoke of Johnny's fire as it dies out. Maybe you'll even catch a glimpse of Johnny's spirit as it moves westward with the spring on his mission of waking the apple blossoms and tending the orchards.
The Aztecs and other Indian tribes have a custom of planting trees when a child is born. An old colonial custom demanded that a bride plant a tree at the side of her new home. Another advocate of Arbor Day was Dr. Birdsey Northup of Connecticut who traveled all over America, Europe and Asia telling people to plant trees. He even offered $1 to any child who'd plant a tree.
Arbor Day is tree planting day. Our country is more beautiful because of this custom. We, too, should plant trees for the enjoyment of the generations yet to come.
April with its showers, its April Fools' Day and its Arbor Day is another link in the chain that connects the past and the present.