History of April Fool’s Day

 

 

Graphic by: Shelby Wallace

Graphic by: Shelby Wallace

Shelby Wallace
Graphic Designer 

Unlike many holidays celebrated, April Fools’ Day has no certain origin. Instead, there are many different theories about how this fun, light-hearted, and downright silly holiday came to be. What is known, however, is that it’s been celebrated since at least the 1700’s by English pranksters. Whether the origin comes from a calendar mix-up or an ancient festival, this day is sure to put a smile on thousands of faces.

The first and probably most well-known theory of April Fools’ Day origin comes from the time period during which France switched from the Julian calendar, to the Gregorian calendar in the 1500’s. According to www.history.com, some people were slow to recognize the start of the new year, which had become Jan. 1.

These people continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1st, which is why it is speculated that this is where April Fool’s came to be from. During this celebration, the people would play jokes and hoaxes, such as placing a paper fish on others’ backs and being referred to as “Poisson d’avril,” meaning April fish. This was said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person. Perhaps this too is where the ‘kick me’ notes started.

Another theory is that the holiday originated from Hilaria, a Roman ancient festival. Celebrated at the end of March, it involved people dressing up in disguises. Along with this, some believe that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, where Mother Nature fooled people with the changing, and unpredictable weather. 

Graphic by: Shelby Wallace

Graphic by: Shelby Wallace

In the 1700’s, English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day, and it began spreading as a celebratory day in Britain in the 1800’s. In Scotland, it became a two-day tradition event starting with the “hunting of the gowk.” In this prank, people were sent on phony errands. The word “gowk” refers to a cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool. After this, it was Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails.

Today, April Fools’ Day is celebrated almost universally. In France and Scotland, it is still celebrated as above. In Iran, according to time.com, it is customary to spend the afternoon outside celebrating the new season with food, laughter, games and jokes. After a picnic, they throw out green vegetables which represent potential illness and bad luck for the new year.

In America, April Fools’ Day is mostly celebrated with jokes. People do a variety of different pranks, such as whoopee cushions, invisible ink, squirting flowers, and a wide variety of others. Some see it as a competition for who can pull off the “best” pranks. 

Overall, this silly holiday is celebrated by many countries, and all have a fun, light-hearted way of enjoying it. Whether the purpose is to celebrate the new year, or just to enjoy life, everyone can have some fun on April Fools’ Day.

shjwallace@lc.edu