creating community through celebration

April Fools' Forecast - March 2008

California Revels is growing. In recent months, the Board has signed both Robert Jackson Paton and Fred Goff to full year contracts. This means that including Executive Director Dirk Burns and myself, we now have an ongoing staff of four. Robert will be extending his work as Production Manager to cover a growing list of production activities including the May Day shows, the Solstice Gala and our street fair and festival performances. As staff Music Director, Fred will be sharing his talent and musical expertise as we develop projects with other groups and extend our outreach into the larger community.

These additions represent a very important step for Revels. In addition to sharing around the workload, it also signifies our commitment to becoming a year-round organization. We will be looking for more opportunities to engage with the wonderfully diverse world in which we reside, and more occasions to fulfill our mission of “Creating Community through Celebration”.

Since the character of the Fool will be a central element in this year’s Christmas Revels, I thought that April might be a good month to talk about one of the many traditions that attach to this rich and ubiquitous character: The Feast of Fools.

We celebrate “April Fools’ Day” of course on the 1st of April, but the medieval European tradition of the “Feast of Fools” was probably celebrated closer to the new year. It was an occasion when the social order was turned upside down and the general populous could lampoon the authority symbols of the Roman Catholic church. Often a “Boy Bishop” was anointed and paraded through the church sacristy on the back of a goat or donkey. Ridiculous proclamations and edicts were proclaimed, parodies of the Mass were performed in nonsensical and even ribald Latin. Some scholars hint at even more scandalous activities. Participants in these profane rituals would disguise themselves by painting their faces or wearing masks, and having done so, were immune from reprisals by the offended authorities.

While the church officials were probably not flattered by the sincerity of this imitation, (the feast was condemned by the Council of Basel in 1431) the hijinx were at least tolerated until the 16th century when the probity of the Protestant reformation brought the fun to an end.

Today we see this sort of relaxation of social mores and protective masquerade in such events as carnival and mumming, and even in the San Francisco Saint Stupid’s Day parade – which hearkens back to the ecclesiastical origins of the custom. Often in December, Revels invokes the Feast of Fools with our “Lord of Misrule” pageant. In this ritual a person of noble bearing (usually a member of the audience) is crowned and bedecked in foolish finery and then handed an edict to be read. The badly fractured faux Latin winds through ridiculous proclamations and leads to a general call to revelry. Our “Lord of Misrule” hearkens back to the “Boy Bishop”, and reaches back even further to the primitive and mysterious “Lord of the Bean”… but that’s another story.

Heigh, heigh, heigh, the people cry And welcome to the king Seated on a nanny goat A-riding in a ring.

From the Marshfield Paper Boys Mumming song.

Here’s more on “The Feast of Fools”:

Foolish Feasting

Feasting Foolishly

- David Parr, Artistic Director