Although the jolly day, also known as All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery to most. Some claim that Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (1392) contains the first recorded association between April 1 and foolishness while others claim that in 1700, English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other.
It’s time to delve deep into the anal of history (wordplay pun absolutely intended) to discover the truth behind the origins of April Fools’ Day.
Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563.
People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize the start of the new year, having been moved from the last week in March to January 1, effectively celebrating the momentous occasion at the wrong time (kinda like Tammy at work who lives perpetually in happy hour), became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.
I believe the ancient art of drawing penises on faces was also born around this same time, although you shouldn’t believe anything I say at this point.
One specific prank at the time included having paper fish placed on the “fools'” backs while referring to them as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), which was said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and/or a gullible person.
While there does seem to be a coloration between the events and the changing of the calendar (hell, I feel like a fool every time daylights savings switches over, or maybe it’s that I feel like a sucker?) but historians have also found a link between April Fools’ Day and ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.
There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
Then there are these dates that have been linked to All Fools’ Day:
April Fools’ Day then spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) (also, the whole phony errands thing sounds quite a bit like poet Eduard De Dene’s shenanigans). The second day, known as Tailie Day, involved pranks played on people’s “derrieres,” such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
At the end of the day, the custom of playing pranks and hoaxes on April Fools’ Day is controversial at best, hilarious most of the time, and down-right dick-ish at worst. So be wary, young life-traveler, be you the butt or the face of the joke. Someone will be unhappy either way.