The Mountain Times

°F Mon, April 21, 2014

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New Years traditions: The Festival of Fools continues

Making a fool of yourself as the new year begins has been a tradition since before medieval times. In fact, origins of "The Festival of Fools" as it was known, date back to the pre-Christian Rome festival to honor the harvest god Saturn.

The Festival of Fools was particularly unique as it was common for, slaves and masters to switch roles; laws governing acceptable social behavior were ignored. People in countries all across Europe soon took part.

Part of the festival was to elect a King of Fools, often dressed in harlequin style. In England, this person was also know as the "King of the Bean" and, in Scotland, the "Abbot of Unreason."

Celebrants might practice cross dressing, sing bawdy songs, drink to excess, or gamble on the church altar, among other things.
Parisians had a particularly infamous reputation. Centuries later, Victor Hugo featured the event in his popular story of Quasi Modo as the King of Fools in Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Disney did their homework for the recent animation of that story, capturing the spirit of the feast with these lyrics:

Come one, come all!

Leave your looms and milking stools 

Coop the hens and pen the mules. 

Come one, come all! 

Close the churches and the schools 

It's the day for breaking rules 

Come and join the feast of Fools!

It's no wonder, that these extreme celebrations and wild excesses, brought on both Protestant and Catholic Church backlashes.  The Protestant Reformation condemned all such behavior and eventually strict laws forbidding the buffoonery followed in the 1600's.