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  • Gloria Hoffner

April Fool's Day

Why do we celebrate April Fool’s Day? The answer has nothing to do with bad jokes and pranks. The answer lies in how we calculate time.

The Babylonians created the celebration of new year. Their tradition was a Spring new year because it is the season when plants spout, flowers bloom and many mammals give birth. (Why are so many baby animals born in the Spring? Because many including foxes and skunks, get pregnant in the fall and thus give birth in the Spring.)

These ancient people also created the traditions of new year resolutions. Their most popular was to return borrowed farm equipment in time for your loaning neighbor to start planting crops.

The problem was, the Babylonian calendar as with the Jewish and Native American calendar, was based on the moon. Every full moon was a new month. However, the occurrence of a blue moon, which means two full moons within 30 days, meant over many years the calendar dates no longer aligned with the seasons which are determined by the sun.

Julius Caesar, ruler of Rome, was determined to correct this flaw and used the mathematics and astronomy charts of the Greeks to in 46 BC produce a calendar based on the sun. At the same time, he moved the celebration of the new year to January 1st. In that year whoever celebrated the start of a new year in April was called an April Fool because they were not following the new Roman calendar.

Experiment: How can you measure the passing of time without a clock?

Materials: A 12-inch piece of string, a weight (this can be a washer, belt buckle, or a pen) pencil, table, and tape.

Process: Tie one end of the string to the middle of the pencil. Tie the other end of the string to the weight. Tape the pencil to the edge of the table. Pull back the weight and let it swing freely. Observe.

Result: The distance of the swing will be the same every time. This was observed by Galileo Galilei when he was 10 years old and watching the swing of a lamp in a cathedral. He realized the steady swing could be used to measure time. Many years later in 1656 Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch mathmagician, invented the pendulum clock based on Galileo’s idea. Today many homes have such a clock called a grandfather or grandmother clock.


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