It’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, but where did it all start?
There are many theories but the one that most hold to links back to a pope – though it isn’t a religious holiday.
Where did it all start then? Why do we celebrate it?…and what can we do to be crowned best prankster (you know you want to know)?
How did April Fool’s Day begin?
The change to the calendar was too much
While no one really agrees on what happened, there is strong evidence that it is all down to Pope Gregory XIII, who adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 – this moved our year from March to Jan 1.
The change was published far and wide, but some didn’t get the memo. These people celebrated the New Year on April 1 and were ridiculed and seen as foolish – hence Fool’s Day.
The French would put paper fish on the ‘fool’s’ backs and were called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish – it’s still the term used in France for April Fool’s.
This doesn’t quite work out though as the Julian Calendar, established in 46BC, made January the first month of the year. Countries began to switch calendars, and it all ended up being a mess by the 1500s. Some countries started the year on different days.
While it’s not clear what calendar had what impact a lot of the theories stem from the idea of the date moving to January.
Renewal festivals where everyone was a fool
Others say the April Fool’s Day is left over from the idea of “renewal festivals” marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
The festivals apparently involved those taking part donning disguises, playing tricks on friends and strangers, and causing chaos.
Others mistake the celebrations for medieval Christianity’s Feast of Fools, which took place each January.
Christians elected a Lord of Misrule who wore masks, dressed up and sung obscene songs. They generally behaved badly.
While this all sounds great, it wasn’t actually what happened. I know, Disney lied to us, or rather Victor Hugo the author did. The festival which was portrayed in the Hunchback of Notre-Dame didn’t happen like– and then Disney – made it all up, so they have nothing to do with April Fool’s.
The actual Feast of Fools was held in the 12th and 13th century and was seen as an alternative to the rowdy festivals. There were role reversals, and the fools represented those chosen by God because of their lowly status. Later clergy stopped the feast, and was finally forbidden by the Council of Basle in 1435.
Another theory is the French Revolution played a part. April 1 is the anniversary of the event…you may ask why is this linked to comedy?
Historians say back on April 1, 1789, after the French people deposed King Louis XVI, King George III of England made a joke which has continued the tradition until today. He pretended to step down.
The peasants took to the streets to celebrate their new freedom..and then were arrested and imprisoned.
In Roman mythology Pluto, the God of the Dead, abducted Proserpina and brought her to live with him in the underworld.
Proserpina called to her mother Ceres for help, but she could only hear the echo of her daughter’s voice. She searched in vain.
Some say the fruitless search was the basis for the ‘fool’s errands’.
The town of Gotham’s trick
There’s a folk tale which links the Fool’s Day to a town called Gotham, Nottinghamshire.
It traditional in the 13th century for any road that the King placed his foot upon to become public property. When the people of Gotham heard that King John planned to travel through their town, they refused to let him in as they didn’t want to lose their main road.
The King upon hearing this sent his soldiers, but when they arrived they just found a town full of lunatics. The people were acting out foolish activities like drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in roofless cages.
It was all an act, but the King fell for it. The town was seen as too foolish. April Fool’s Day was supposed to mark their victory.
Chaucer’s riddle of a date
In Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale a fox tricks a rooster on ”syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.”
Chaucer probably meant 32 days after March – May 2, but may took it to mean March 32 or April 1.
It was seen as a reference to April Fool’s.