April Fool’s Day may not be a national holiday but its history reaches back as far as 1564, when France officially changed its calendar to the modern Gregorian version. Around the world April Fool’s is known as a jovial day where adults and children play pranks on their friends before yelling out, “April Fool” and bursting into laughter.
Studies say April Fool’s Day is good for health. Celebrated on the first of April, it is an annual day of fun, hoaxes, jokes and pranks; it also marks the beginning of National Humor Month. This one day has proven to be a day of relief for the many people who are otherwise overloaded with stress and anxiety. Laughing has positive effects on the brain, heart and blood rate.
The stories surrounding the origin of April Fool’s Day are many and it is difficult to determine the truth. One popular theory suggested the origin of April Fool’s Day is the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in France, thereby moving the celebration of the New Year from the last week of March to the first day of January. Supposedly, some continued to celebrate the end of New Year’s Week on the first of April and were called fools; or in French, poissons d’Avril.
On April 2, the former New Year, friends and family would exchange gifts. During the 1500s New Year’s Day was transferred to January 1, with the changeover of the calendars. Many times people would forget about the change in calendars and continue to exchange their gifts and warm wishes on the old day. Others would mock the forgetful ones and they became victims of various jokes. However, the adoption of the new calendar occurred gradually over a century causing the likelihood of this theory bleak.
Another theory suggests the April Fool’s tradition dates back to ancient Roman times when the Romans and Celts celebrated a festival of practical joking. Allegedly, according to an ancient Roman myth in March during the time the equinox occurs, the god Pluto abducted the goddess Proserpina. Proserpina’s mother searched over and over for her daughter but could not find her, she only heard her voice. The search was said to end in vain and thus inspired the tradition of a fool’s errand.
In another theory the curator of the online Museum of Hoaxes, Alex Boese, directs people’s attention to the “renewal festivals” which is a worldwide tradition. These festivals have been found in many different cultures and involve ritualized chaos. This ritualized chaos was thought to be that of April Fool’s pranks.
The British legend places the origin of the festivals in the Nottinghamshire town of Gotham. According to the legend the town’s residents heard that King John could claim any road he put his feet on as his property so they refused the monarch entry. When his soldiers arrived and tried to force their way in, the residents pretended to be lunatics, and as a result King John decided it would be inappropriate to punish them because of their supposed insanity. Allegedly, April Fool’s Day celebrates their prank on the King but the theory has no hard evidence to substantiate it.
The theories surrounding the tradition of April Fool’s Day are too numerable to include here. However, it continues to be a day when tomfoolery and mischievous behavior is deemed acceptable. According to the tradition, pranks and jokes which emerge as an “April Fool” must stop at 12 o’clock noon on April 1.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Top Image Courtesy of Jamison Wieser – Creativecommons Flickr License
Featured Image Courtesy of Pat Knight – Creativecommons Flickr License
Inside Image Courtesy of One Way Stock – Creativecommons Flickr License