Origins of April Fools’ Day

On April 1st, people around the world will observe some version of April Fool’s Day. From India to Ireland, people will play tricks on each other, and news outlets will perpetrate good-natured hoaxes on the public. The most interesting thing about this holiday, though, is that no one is certain of its origins.

There are possible mentions of the day in literary works as early as the 1300s, when Chaucer mentions pranks being played 32 days after March began in his “Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” A more definite reference can be found in a 1561 Flemish poem, wherein a servant believes that his master is playing an April 1st joke on him. There is also a mention of a “poisson d’Avril,” a practice associated with French April Fools’, in a poem that was written in 1508. While all these works tell us that the day was celebrated by at least the 16th century, it does not give us any clue of how the April 1st holiday came into existence.

history.com
history.com

Some have suggested that the practice of celebrating April Fools’ originates with the changeover of the calendar that took place in the 1500s. At this time, New Year’s Day was shifted from March 25th to its current date of January 1st. Before this change, New Year’s would be celebrated in festivals that lasted until April 1st. People who resisted the change to the new calendar would be made fun of for sticking to outdated traditions. This theory has largely been debunked, since April Fools’ events had been documented for at least 200 years by the time England changed their calendar, the last country to do so.

Some scholars believe that the origins of April Fools’ Day are rooted in ancient springtime renewal festivals. Many cultures have some form of light-hearted holiday associated with the coming of spring. During these festivals, people play jokes on each other and have parties and masquerades.

The ancient Roman festival of Hilaria may be a likely source of later April Fools’ celebrations. The Romans held this festival around the time of the spring equinox, and it involved all the requisite pranks we now associate with modern April Fools’.

There was also a medieval Feast of Fools that bears some resemblance to April Fools’. During this event, masters and servants would sometimes trade places for the day. Children would be allowed to boss their parents around. A Lord of Misrule would also be chosen by the people, who would then preside over a series of drunken parties. These celebrations were often blasphemous, so the Church worked hard to eradicate them. It is possible that, no longer able to observe the Feast of Fools, the people simply turned this holiday into a day of pranks of jokes.

These theories may partly explain the origins of April Fools’, but none do so perfectly. It could be that the day is an amalgamation of all these theories, and possibly more besides. We will probably never know for sure.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Dutch Company Wants to Train Crows to Pick Up Cigarette Butts

    Pollution in the form of garbage on city streets is a major problem in cities worldwide. Discarded cigarette butts make up a large portion of this street rubbish as more than 4.5 trillion of them are thrown out every year. These cigarette remains then go on to contaminate the environment with toxic chemicals and carcinogens....

    Read More
  • The Surprising Diet of the Vikings

    The Vikings are well-known for their warlike nature. It is no wonder then that images of a Viking feast often contain large platters of roasted meat and mugs of some strong alcoholic beverage, with little else as an accompaniment besides perhaps some type of bread. You might be astonished to learn, then, that the Viking...

    Read More
  • Whales and Dolphins Have Human-Like Societies

    Whales and dolphins have long been known to be smart animals. Some of these oceanic mammals can communicate with each other using a special language, and some, like bottlenose dolphins, even use simple tools. They are almost human-like in their intelligence at times. And a new study, published in the journal Nature and Ecology, shows...

    Read More
  • What Happened to Bobby Dunbar?

    On August 23, 1912, the Dunbars, a wealthy family from Opelousas, Louisiana, went on a fishing trip to Swayze Lake, also in Louisiana. The small family group consisted of Percy and Lessie Dunbar and their two young children, Alonzo and Bobby. At some point that day, four-year-old Bobby went missing. Volunteers and police searched the...

    Read More
  • The Unlikely Witch of Edinburgh

    From late 17th-century Scotland comes one of the strangest stories of witchcraft to emerge out of that period. Most people who were convicted and executed for the crime of witchcraft had to have their confessions tortured or bullied out of them. But this person’s confession was totally voluntary and completely unexpected. Major Thomas Weir was...

    Read More
  • The First Vending Machine Was Invented 2000 Years Ago

    Vending machines are a part of everyday life for most people. They can be found just about everywhere, from offices to schools to rest stops on the side of the highway. With the vending machines of today dispensing everything from sodas to electronics, one could be forgiven for thinking they are purely a modern invention....

    Read More
  • Origins of Easter Island’s First Inhabitants Remains Mysterious

    Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is one of the most mysterious places on earth. The tiny, isolated island, with a total area of only 64 square miles and over 1100 miles away from any other inhabited area, is perhaps best-known for its giant statues. These statues, known as moai, are themselves a mystery....

    Read More
  • The Mysterious Tunguska Event

    On the morning of June 30, 1908, a huge ball of fire was observed streaking across the sky in a remote part of Siberia, in Russia. No one knew what it was at the time, but whatever its origins, it exploded above the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, flattening nearly 800 square miles of forest. This strange...

    Read More