Mar 30, 2011

The History of April Fool's Day


April Fool's Day, also known as All Fool's Day, is celebrated on April 1st each year. It is a day of light-hearted teasing and prank-playing. It is celebrated in many countries around the world. 

Like many of our familiar, long-standing holidays, the true origin of April Fool's Day is unclear. There are a few theories as to where it first began.

A Calendar Change
The most popular story comes from France. In the year 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar (named after himself) to replace the Julian calendar for reasons involving the vernal equinox. Prior to the change the new year was celebrated the week of March 25 - April 1, culminating with the main celebration on April 1st. With the calendar change, New Year's Day became January 1st.

Communication was understandably slow in those days and many people in outlying towns did not hear of the change until years after the fact, and some who did hear about it didn't believe it to be true, thus many people continued to celebrate the new year on April 1st. These people were referred to as "fools" and became the butt of many a joke. People would send them on "fool's errands" and try to trick them into believing something that was not true. Eventually the harassment evolved into a day of prank-playing on the first day of April, which over time was adopted by many countries around the world. 

Although this is the most popular theory it is probably not the true origin of April Fool's Day because there are references to April Fool's Day prior to this date in time. (See Wikipedia - April Fool's Day & Museum of Hoaxes.com)

Constantine and the Court Jesters
Another explanation of the origin of April Fool's Day came from Professor Joseph Boskin, professor of history at Boston University. He explained that during the reign of Constantine, Emperor of Rome, at a time of political unrest, several court jesters came to the Emperor and told him that they could do a better job than he at running the empire. Amused by the proposition, Constantine allowed a jester named Kugal to be king for one day. Kugal passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, and the custom became an annual event.

Professor Boskin explained, "In a way, it was a very serious day. In those times fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things into perspective with humor."

But wait! Before you become too convinced of this story, you should know that's all it is, a story. Professor Boskin made up the whole story, in 1983, when asked by a reporter from the Associated Press what the origin of April Fool's Day was. The Associated Press ran the story which was printed by several newspapers, only to find out two weeks later that it was an April Fool's hoax.

Kugel, incidentally, is an Eastern European dish that one of Boskin's friends had been craving.      

A Celebration of Springtime
Many historians believe April Fool's Day to be a celebration of the coming of spring. Many cultures in the world have some kind of festival to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The Romans had Saturnalia and Hilaria, India had Holi, Northern Europeans had the Festival of Lud, and the British had Hoke-Tide and Shick-Shack Day. These celebrations are called "renewal festivals". Each renewal festival is comprised of similar characteristics such as the wearing of disguises, playing pranks on one another, a switch in social order (servants ordering around masters, children challenging the authority of parents, etc.) and general misrule and disorder which is bound to a certain time frame.

As the Museum of Hoaxes puts it,  "April Fool's Day has all the characteristics of a renewal festival. For one day forms of behavior that are normally not allowed (lying, deception, playing pranks) become acceptable, and yet the disorder is bounded within a strict timeframe. Traditionally, no pranks are supposed to be played after 12 o'clock noon of the first. Social hierarchies and tensions are exposed, but hostility is defused with laughter." 

Many historians agree that April Fool's Day evolved from the ancient renewal festivals but no one has been able to pinpoint one festival above another.

Sources: Infoplease.com  Huffington Post  Museum of Hoaxes

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