April Fools' Day History

There are many hypotheses about the start of April Fools' Day history, but no clear answer. Here are some of the possible origins of the day of tomfoolery.

The Calendar Change Theory
In 1564, France changed its calendar year start date from the end of March to January 1. This caused some confusion and understandable adjustment time among citizens. Those who stubbornly continued to celebrate the new year on the old date became the subject of pranks. One of these pranks was for people to stick paper fish on their unsuspecting victims, calling them "April fish" - the modern term for April Fool. However, the history of calendar reform actually disputes this largely plausible theory. One reason for this is that there is little evidence that the French year was ever connected to April 1.

Historical evidence in poetry

  • Chaucer: Nun's Priest's Tale, 1392 - a line in this story about a prankster fox who attempts to trick a vain rooster appears to refer to April 1st, but it is unclear. If it is a reference to the date, it could also indicate that April 1st was a day of tricks at this early date. Many scholars do not accept the translation, however, as referring to April 1st and say it's ambiguous.
  • Eloy D'Amerval: Le livre de la diablerie, 1508 - a poem about devious plotting of Satan and Lucifer, which includes reference to an "April fish." Either this refers to April Fool's Day, or it refers simply to a fool. This is also not a clear answer.
  • Escape of the Duke of Lorraine, 1632 - This is a legend about the imprisoned Duke of Lorraine and his wife, who dressed as peasants to sneak through town and escape. They were found out and it was told to a guard, who didn't believe the accusation, thinking it was a trick. The couple escaped. The whole story is unfounded.

Renewal festivals
Renewal festivals, in many cultures, were celebrations of the beginning of Spring. The celebrations welcomed frivolity, silliness, and little tricks. In Greece, the Saturnalia; in Rome, the Hilaria; in India, Holi; in Northern Europe, the Festival of the Lud (Celtic god of humor); medieval Fest of Fools; and many regional British festivals were all examples of similar revelry on or around April 1.

Roman and Christian mythology
Each of these traditions have a story of one character sending another on a "fools errand" - a trip of no true purpose for reasons of dishonest diversion. Is it the origin of April Fool's Day? The answer is still unknown.

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