By Bradley Stead
Usually, on this day, people across the nation and the world take part in the traditional April Fools’ Day.
In these trying times of COVID-19, it is important to remember the things and people that make us laugh, which seems particularly pertinent on a day like today, even if no one really feels like pulling pranks.
But where does April Fools’ Day originate from?
It may surprise you to know that the origins are largely unknown, however, there are a few different theories about where the April 1st tradition came from.
Many historians theorise that April Fools’ dates back to France in 1564. This is when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian. Under the Gregorian calendar, the new year began on January 1st, however, in the Julian calendar, the new year didn’t start until the spring equinox which usually fell around April. Those who used the new calendar started to play pranks and hoaxes on those who refused to switch to the new date. They even had paper fish placed on their backs and referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish) which was a symbol of a young/gullible person as it represented a fish that was easily caught. These people came to be known as ‘April fools.’
Another theory refers to the ancient Roman festival of ‘Hilaria’, which is Latin for joyful. It was a festival to celebrate the equinox (you can see the running theme of calendars and time), and the mother of the Gods, Cybele. This festival allowed all kinds of amusements, including a masquerade where people dressed up in disguises and imitated each other, even those of a higher status.
Some people also refer to a 14th century poem by Geoffrey Chaucer as the origin of April Fools’ Day. The poem talks of pranks being played 32 days “syn March began”, in other words, the first of April. However, the poem doesn’t explicitly mention April 1st, and some believe the 32 days was an attempt to confuse people and make fun of them.
Most historians agree that the tradition spread through Britain during the 18th/19th century. In Scotland, it became a two-day event. The first day became known as “hunting the gowk”, as people were sent on fictional errands. The “gowk” was a cuckoo bird and was a symbol for a fool. The second day, also known as Tailie Day, was when people played pranks on each other, in particular pinning tails and ‘kick me’ signs on others.
As with most history surrounding events like these, there is a lot of speculation and uncertainty.
It is unlikely that we will ever know the true origin of April Fools’ Day. Regardless of this, during times like these, it is important to remember the joyful things in life, whether that be a good practical joke or a good book, or time spent with someone. Stay at home and stay safe, but on April 1st in particular, stay safe from pranks, fake news and phoney social media posts. You never know when you might be taken for a fool!