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 History/Culture: April Fool’s Day/All Fool’s Day

HolidaysBy Blue1Moon aka Sherlyn Meinz

Well Happy April Fool’s Day! Stay aware today, things may not be what they seem. I hadn’t really known anything about April Fool’s Day before I began researching it. Like the other holidays we celebrate, April Fool’s Day has a long and rich history. Of course the best April Fool’s jokes are ones that allow everyone to laugh, even the person who is the butt of the joke. Hoaxes, pranks, practical jokes, and tricks played on the unsuspecting, or gullible have abounded for centuries in many countries. It was not until the 20th century that it became common for the media to play out hoaxes on the public.

Throughout much of the ancient world, Spring was considered to be the beginning of the New Year. In 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new Christian calendar, replacing the Julian Calendar, and set the date of the New Year as January 1st. The Gregorian Calendar was accepted in France in 1582 under the rule of Charles IX. However, as communication depended primarily on word of mouth, many hadn’t heard of the change or didn’t believe that the date of the New Year had changed. Others just refused to accept it. It was upon these “backward” people that jokes were played, as they were considered ‘fools.’ ...

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Prior to that time, the New Year had long been celebrated on March 25 and festivities continued through April 1st. It was many years before this calendar change was officially accepted in other European countries (1660 – Scotland; 1700 – Denmark, Germany, Norway; and 1752 – England.)

Some believe that our current observances come down from France where it seems that those ‘in the know’ about the calendar change began playing tricks on those who didn’t, calling them ‘April fools.’ People were sent on ‘fool’s errands’ and attempts were made to trick people into believing something untrue, invitations to imaginary parties were also popular. The holiday was originally more of a folk celebration, with the elite apparently disdaining to participate. However as you go further back in history there are actually many connections to much earlier celebrations.

Ancient Traditions appear to underlie our current April Fool’s Day Celebrations

In some cultures it was traditional to exchange gifts during the Spring New Year celebrations, after the calendar was changed, mock gifts began being sent as April Fool’s jokes.

Some theorize that April Fool’s Day dates back to the Roman ‘Festival of Cerelia.’ This feast related to the legend of Proserpina, who was abducted by God of the Dead, Pluto, while she was out gathering lilies. Proserpina was taken to live with Pluto in the Underworld. Her mother, Ceres, Goddess of Grain and Harvest, was said to have heard the echo of her daughter’s voice calling for help, and was so upset that she began a futile search for her. This hopeless quest was considered a ‘fool’s errand.’

Others contend that this holiday is related to two additional Roman festivals. "Saturnalia", was celebrated at the end of December with drinking, dancing, merrymaking, gift exchanges, and allowing slaves to switch places with their masters for the day. The “Festival of Hilaria” was celebrated on March 25th in ancient Rome, honoring the resurrection of the god Attis, it was also called “Roman Laughing Day.” Rejoicing and wearing disguises were common ways to celebrate on ‘Laughing Day.’

In later years, ‘Laughing Day’ became known as the ‘Feast of Fools’ and involved the election of a mock pope and parodies of church rituals. The church didn’t really appreciate this holiday and attempted to suppress it. To bring a more Christian focus to this celebration, some have pointed to the Bible. They attribute the origins of the holiday to either Noah sending a dove out before the flood waters had subsided (a fool’s errand); or to the time when Pilate and Herod sent Jesus back and forth between them. The [?] common phrase “Sending a man from Pilate to Herod” is supposed to be an old saying that refers to sending someone on a fool’s errand, and claimed by a few to be the origin of April Fool’s Day.

In India the ‘Holi Festival’ was celebrated at the end of February or early March, and street celebrants covered each other with tinted powders, throwing colors at others until everyone was multicolored from top to bottom. The festival was held on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Phalguna.

In northern Europe an ancient festival honored the Celtic god, Lud, who was the God of Humor. In British lore, April Fool’s Day is also linked to the legendary town of fools, Gotham, in Nottinghamshire. During the 13th century apparently it was traditional for any road the King traveled to become public property. The people of Gotham did not want King John to pass through their town, and thus lose their main road. When King John heard of the lies they began spreading so he would avoid Gotham, he sent a messenger for an explanation. The town put on an incredible show of insanities, which worked, and the town was deemed to be full of lunatics, too foolish for the King to punish.

Some feel that April Fool’s Day was in many ways an acknowledgement of Spring’s fickle weather, which often fools us.

Many ancient Spring and New Year celebrations and festivals, from all over the world, have come down to us to form the traditions of the holiday currently celebrated.

April Fool’s Day Observances Around the World

England: Tricks should only be played in the morning; the person the trick is played on is referred to as a ‘noodle.’

France: The person who is tricked on April Fool’s Day in France is referred to as a “Poisson d’avril” (April fish.) It is popular here to hang a paper fish on someone’s back. Abundant young fish available in the Spring, were easy to catch (young and foolish) and the celebration of this spring abundance underlies the prank. Chocolate fish are also given out to celebrate this holiday.

India: The ‘Huli Festival” is held on March 31st, jokes and smearing color on one another is popular to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

Mexico: A fool’s day is celebrated on the 28th of December. This observance originally commemorated the time when King Herod ordered the slaughter of innocent children. It gradually evolved into a lighter holiday, and became more about pranks and trickery.

Portugal: Throwing flour at your friends is the traditional prank, and April Fool’s Day is celebrated on the Sunday and Monday prior to Lent.

Scotland: April Fool’s Day lasts 48 hours. The ‘butts’ of jokes played on the first day are called ‘Gowks.’ This is another name for cuckoo birds. The popularity of sending ‘fools’ out hunting for this non-existing bird species is why this holiday is called "April Gowks Day" in Scotland. The second of these days is called "Taily Day." Pranks involving the buttocks are played, and the well-known prank of placing a “Kick Me” sign on someone’s backside began here.

United States: Generally small pranks and tricks are played on both friends and strangers. Media hoaxes are also popular.


There are several superstitions related to April Fool’s Day. In some countries it is believed that tricks played after 12 noon, will bring the prankster bad luck. If the ‘fool’ on whom a trick is played gets angry or doesn’t take it in the spirit of fun, he or she will bring themselves bad luck. Children born on this day should never gamble, but are supposed to be lucky in other areas of life. Men are not supposed to marry on this day, for superstition claims that he will always be ruled by his wife; however, being tricked by a pretty woman is said to bring friendship or marriage with her.

April Fool’s Day Quiz

April Fool’s Day Gallery of Hoaxes



“Celebrate! Holidays in the U.S.A.”
“A Brief April Fool’s Day History”
“History of April Fool’s Day”
“April Fool’s Day,” from Wikipedia
“April Fool’s Day Unit,” by Megan Crandall
“Happy April Fool’s Day,” Jeanne Pasero
“April Fool’s Day Has Serious Origins, ‘Fools’ ignored the new calendar” David Johnson
“The Origin of April Fool’s Day”
“April Fool’s Day,” Jerry Wilson


[01 April 2014 - Previously posted on this site]

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