Sunday, April 01, 2012

This Is Not a Joke: About April Fool's Day

April Fools' Day has been also called All Fools' Day.  Its origins are uncertain, though some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it stems from the adoption of a new calendar.

Ancient cultures that includes the Romans and Hindus, celebrated New Year's Day on or around April 1. It closely followed the vernal equinox (March 20th or March 21st.)

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. Supposedly, many people either refused to accept the new date or did not learn about it, but continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1. Other people made fun of these traditionalists, and sent them on "fool's errands,” trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, playing jokes on April 1st spread throughout Europe.

Problem with this is 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. There’s also no direct historical evidence for this explanation, only conjecture made recently.

Another explanation of the origins of April Fools' Day was provided by Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University. He said that the practice began 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 was amused by this and allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, making it an annual event. Brought to the public's attention in an Associated Press article printed by many newspapers in 1983, there seemed to be one problem: Boskin made the whole thing up! It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize that they'd been victims of an April Fools' joke.

Many different cultures have had days of foolishness around the start of April. 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. The French call April 1 Poisson d'Avril, or "April Fish," where French children might tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates and yell out "Poisson d'Avril" when the prank is discovered.


Sharon Stogner said...

Fish? Really? . Silly French

Janice Seagraves said...

I guess that means that Aprils Fools day has been around for a long-long time.


Pamela K. Kinney said...

That it has, Janice. :)

That was something I didn't know until I researched, Sharon.