It has different names in other parts of the world, but the idea of April Fool’s Day (also called All Fool’s Day) is essentially the same wherever you go, which is to try to trick someone with a good-natured prank before labeling them as a fool. You have to be careful, though, as in many parts of the world it is you who will become the fool if you don’t deliver that prank before noon.
Given that the day is celebrated in so many different parts of the world, it’s tough to say where the origins of April Fool’s Day truly began. The thinking is that it has much to do with the arrival of spring and the festivities that took place during the vernal equinox.
There are also those that believe this celebration has a lot to do with the fact that April 1 was very much a day of fun and festivity in pagan Britain. Others trace the origins back to the Roman festival of Hilaria which celebrates the vernal (spring) equinox and the goddess Cybele.
The Medieval Feast of Fools could also be a precursor to All Fool’s Day since this celebration featured young people in France, England, Germany, Poland and Spain mocking those in authoritarian power. The Feast of Fools was similar to the Feast of the Ass (I kid you not) which was celebrated in France as commemoration to biblical donkey stories.
And, still others trace it back to Iran as far as 536 BC as this day of pranks is still alive and well today. This Persian day of jokes and joyfulness was known as Sizdah Berdar and started centuries before Iran became a Muslim nation in the 7th century AD.
For most scholars, though, in the 1500’s, in France, the switch to the Gregorian calendar is believed to have a lot to do with acceptance of the celebration. April 1st as a day of fools can be traced back to the change when the New Year was observed.
In many parts of the world, such as in Rome, the first day of April was accepted as the start of the New Year because of the arrival of spring. But that way of thinking eventually died out with the new Gregorian calendar as January 1st became the day that most of the world adopted as New Year.
Anyone who still viewed April 1 as the start of the year from that point forward was viewed as a fool. Many farmers and townspeople who lived in isolated villages where communications traveled slowly, became the butt of jokes for not knowing that the calendar changed. They were invited to non-existent parties or sent on fool’s errands.
Later in history, the English folk would kick fool’s day up a notch. In 1698, in Great Britain, several people were given finely printed free tickets to the Tower of London to witness “Washing the Lions”.
The celebration of April Fool’s Day was something that started to spread across the world, but there are some variations as to how it is observed in each different place. In places like France and Scotland, sticking signs on unsuspecting folks is considered to be the trick.
While the Scot’s go with a “Kick Me” sign that results in the recipient receiving several well placed boots to the butt, the French go with a paper fish, which is in keeping with the name of the day being known as poisson d’avril (April Fish).
In recent times, it is not just individuals that love to get in on the act on April 1st, with well-respect
ed news outlets frequently mixing in stories that are obviously made up, but which always manage to catch a large number of people by surprise.
In 1997, several dozen famous cartoonists and artists participated in the Great April Fools’ Day Comics Switcheroonie. This comical comedic conspiracy coalesced 46 different syndicated cartoonists who swapped comic strips or in some way tricked their syndications, the newspapers and the readers.
In general, part of the fun of April Fool’s Day is that it has become a good-natured way to blow off steam and poke a little harmless fun at friends, family members, and co-workers. If you want to avoid becoming an April Fool’s victim, make sure to circle that day on the calendar as a reminder. And put a happy face inside.