This week April 1st, or April Fool’s Day, be upon us. For some, it is a day of hoaxes and pranks; for others, it is a day to put up with. Some of those people may be asking “Where did this stupid tradition come from?” Well, it turns out to not be such an easy question to answer.
A popular theory dates back to 1582 when France switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar that we are familiar with. One of the changes in the calendar was moving the new year from April 1 to January 1. Those that continued to celebrate the new year during the last week of March to April 1 were made fun of and called “April Fools”. It is during this time that Scots would give someone a letter to deliver. However, that letter would say “send the fool further” and the unsuspecting letter carrier would be sent somewhere else. Sometimes, a “kick me” sign (to which the Scots are credited with inventing) would be posted on their backside.
The Catholic Church may be partially to blame as well. Catholics in medieval France and England celebrated the “Feast of Fools” on January 1st. Church officials encouraged people to dress in costume and poke fun at people. Role reversal and bringing donkeys into the church were common things to do at the time. This was thought to release any anti-church tension and to get people laughing. The feast was eventually banned because it because to raunchy and boisterous, but that did not stop people from celebrating it for generations.
Some historians can link April 1st origins to the Roman Empire. The festival of “Hilaria” was celebrated during the last week of March, where the day was filled with games, mocking, and masquerades. No one was immune from being made fun of!
In some European countries, the morning is full of practical jokes, but it is considered tasteless to prank anyone after noon.
I personally like the theory that April Fools is linked to the vernal equinox. Mother Nature likes to fool people into thinking that spring is here, but she makes April weather patterns unpredictable.
There is plenty of documentation of April Fool’s jokes that transcend history. Nobleman and kings send advisors and aides on foolish errands. Scots invent the “kick me” sign. BBC created the “spaghetti harvest”. Caltech, notorious for playing pranks on other schools, hosted the 1961 Rose Bowl and switched the crowd signs from spelling out “Huskies” to spelling out “Caltech” (Caltech wasn’t even playing). Taco Bell announced that it was buying the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.
No matter how you choose to get through April 1st, whether it be by playing pranks or just trying to get through the day, I want to know what you’re up to. Are you a prankster? Or do you prefer to just get through the day unscathed?
History.com Editors. The History Channel. April Fool’s Day. April Fools’ Day: Origins, Meaning & Hoaxes – HISTORY 26 March 2021
Kaplan, Sarah. The Washington Post. A brief, totally sincere history of April Fool’s Day. A brief, totally sincere history of April Fools’ Day – The Washington Post 31 March 2016
Wikipedia. April Fools’ Day – Wikipedia 30 March 2021