MERKISDAGAR, April 1


“In many parts of the world, people entertain themselves on April 1. On that day, people try to tease and play a trick on family, friends, and teachers. But when did this custom begin?


It is not known how it started. In 1562, Pope Gregory brought a new calendar to the Christian world. It was decided that a new year began on January 1; before that, it had started on April 1.


Some people did not believe that the calendar had been changed and some would not accept the changes. These people continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1.


Many thought these people were fools.”


This is my translation of the opening paragraph in the section on “Merkisdagar” in the Introductory Icelandic class I took in 2019-2020.



I love this story, but it’s not quite that simple. The Julian calendar used the vernal equinox, not April 1, as the first day of a new year. And not everyone adopted the Gregorian calendar at the same time. While Catholic states adopted it almost immediately, it was the mid-1700s before Great Britain adopted the change. Russia did not shift to the Gregorian calendar until 1918. This story is just one of many. It may or may not be accurate.


Our instructor said that Icelanders love April Fools Day and my research has suggested that all Scandinavian countries celebrate the day. Many papers and other news outlets will publish exactly one false story on April 1. For newspapers, this is usually on the front page, although it is never the top headline.


On April 1, 1953, the back page of Morgunblaðið was devoted to a new kind of airplane that would take passengers to Akranes. The accompanying photos showed a craft that was shaped like a bus, with the wings and tail of a plane. April Fools!


In 1954, the paper reported that the American actor Tyrone Power had made a surprise visit to Iceland.



A decade or two later, people in my home community were thrilled to learn that actor Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright in the TV show Bonanza) regularly vacationed at a hunting lodge on nearby Lake Manitoba. We were excited to know this, and it was true.


I suppose the Icelanders were also excited to learn about Tyrone Power, but unfortunately, it was an April Fool’s prank by the newspaper.


As recently as 2011, Iceland Review chose April 1 to report that “Killer Whale Terrorizes Reykjavik Residents.” That one wasn’t true, either.


Our homework that day in Icelandic class was to translate a series of short news reports and then answer the question, “Do you believe this or not?”


Unfortunately, our classes were interrupted by COVID-19, and I never did get to find out which stories were real, and which were made up.


Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.



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