April Fool’s Day, sometimes called All Fool’s Day, has origins that are uncertain. Some see it as a celebration of the turn of the seasons, while others believe it comes from the adoption of a new calendar.
Ancient cultures like the Romans and Hindus celebrated New Year’s Day on or around April 1. It closely follows the vernal equinox, which we spoke about in last week’s article on Spring coming early this year. In medieval times, much of Europe celebrated March 25, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the year.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) to replace the old Julian Calendar. The new calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated Jan. 1. That year, France adopted the reformed calendar and shifted New Year’s Day to Jan. 1. Many people refused to accept the new date, or didn’t learn about it, and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. Other people started to make fun of these traditionalists and sent them on “fool’s errands” or tried to trick them into believing something false. Soon, the practice spread throughout Europe.
Another explanation of the origins of April Fool’s Day is that during the reign of Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire, Constantine allowed a jester to be king for one day, and it became an annual event. 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 in perspective with humor.
Many different cultures have had days of foolishness around the start of April, give or take a couple of weeks. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis. The Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. Maybe there’s something about the time of year with it’s turn from winter to spring that lends itself to lighthearted celebrations.
April Fool’s Day is observed throughout the Western world by sending someone on a “fool’s errand,” looking for things that don’t exist; playing pranks; and trying to get people to believe ridiculous things.
The French call April Poisson d’Avril, or “April Fish.” French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered.
Whichever way you wish to celebrate it, April 1 is April Fool’s Day. Maybe you should have a “day of foolishness” yourself, or “bring something into perspective with humor.” Maybe just put a picture of a fish on someone’s back and when they find it, see if you can pronounce “Poisson d’Avril,” or maybe you’d better just say April Fools!