April Fools’ Day!

April Fools’ Day

April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, is considered the most light-hearted day of the year.  It is celebrated on the 1st of April in many European countries, in French under the name of “Poisson d’avril” and in Italian “Pesce d’aprile”.

What is the story behind April Fools’ day?

Why on 1st April, whilst in Spain the day for pranks is on 28th December?

Whilst some see this day as a celebration that stems from the adoption of a new calendar, others believe it is related to a simple change of seasons.

The Origins behind April Fools’ Day

A change of new year´s day following a reform of calendar.

Many ancient civilisations, including the Romans and Hindus, traditionally celebrated New Year’s Day on or around 1st April. It closely follows the vernal equinox (March 20th or March 21st.) In medieval times, many European countries celebrated 25th March, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year.

In 1582, following the decision of Pope Gregory XIII, a new “Gregorian Calendar” replaced the old Julian Calendar .  This new calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on 1st January.

So on 1st January 1582, there was an important change in calendar and the first country to adopt this reformed calendar was France.  However, according to a popular explanation, many people either refused to accept the new date, or were not informed, and continued to celebrate their original new year’s day on 1st April. Some began to make fun of these traditionalists, sending them on “fool’s errands” or trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, this practice spread throughout the rest of Europe.

The confusion of dates between the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar and the spread of April Fools’ day in England

There is some confusion and disagreement regarding the change of calendar theory. The first is that it doesn’t fully account for the spread of April Fools’ Day to other European countries. The Gregorian calendar was not adopted by England until 1752, for example, but April Fools’ Day was already well established there by that point. We also have no direct historical evidence for the origin of April Fools’ day. It´s only conjecture, and a change of interpretations throughout the years.

Constantine and Kugel

Joseph Boskin, a history professor at Boston University came up with another completely different theory behind the origins of April Fools’ Day. He explained that the practice began during the ancient Roman reign of Constantine.

When asked for details about his theory, Boskin spinned a story about how, during the reign of ancient Roman Emperor Constantine, a group of jesters, including a court jester called Kugel, told him they could run his empire more efficiently than he was. Constantine agreed to allow Kugel to rule for a day as king. Being a jester, Kugel declared that from that day onwards, each year, people would celebrate it as a day of foolishness. According to Boskin, “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.”

This is a very recent explanation, only published in 1983. There was only one catch: Boskin made the whole thing up!

Spring Fever

It is worth noting that many different cultures have had days of jokes and absurdity around this time of year.  The Romans had a festival called Hilaria, the Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim.

Some say that it´s merely the time of year, with its turn from winter to spring, which lends itself to lighthearted celebrations.

April Fools’ Day around the world

April Fools’ Day is observed throughout the Western hemisphere. On this day, the victim could be sent on a “fool’s errand,” looking for things that don’t exist. People play pranks and try to get ‘gullible’ people to believe ridiculous things.

The French call this day Poisson d’Avril, or “April Fish.” Both in France and in Italy, children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” to reveal the prank.

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