Where Did April Fools’ Day Come From?

Happy April 1st!  How did we get such a date on our calendar?

According to the book An Uncommon History of Common Things by Bethanne Patrick and John Thompson (National Geographic, 2009, pp 52-53) —

“Theories on the origin of April Fools’ Day abound, but the mostly likely takes it back to 16th century France.  The French accepted the reformed Gregorian calendar in the late 1500s, setting their New Year’s Day back from March 25 to January 1.  The old anniversary continued to be celebrated with a week of festivities, topped off by a final day of merriment on April 1.  Pranks were played on those who had a hard time remembering that the date for New Year’s had shifted.  The gullible were sent on fool’s errands, invited to nonexistent parties, and given ridiculous presents.  Such people were callecd poissons d’Avril (April fish), because like the newly hatched fish, they were easily caught.  The custom did not jump the English Channel until the 18th century; it was known in England as All Fool’s Day (“all” perhaps a corruption of auld, or old).

“Other theories push April fooling back much earlier.  Noah reputedly sent a dove out after the great flood, but it was a fool’s errand — the bird could find no land.  A Roman spring festival honored the goddess of agriculture, Ceres, whose daughter was abducted by Pluto, god of the underworld.  Ceres went to rescue her — another fool’s errand.  Attempts to relate the day to Christian tradition make mention of the mock trial of Jesus; pranks were a reminder of the ridicule Christ suffered at the same time of year.  Whatever the origin, April Fools’ Day remains a rite of spring, a day for humbling and being humbled.”

No, really!


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