Be it the Tower of London hosting a lion washing ceremony (1856), spaghetti growing on trees (1957) or pantyhose being stretched out over TV screen to watch the broadcast in stunning color (1962), there have been elaborate pranks played on April Fools’ Day. As soon as March ends, people can’t help but scheme, plot and act silly. While it’s pretty clear to all what happens on April Fools’ Day, what might come as a surprise is that no one is aware who started this day, why and when.
There are various explanations as to why the day has become an international obsession. Let’s dive deep into this odd, mysterious day, for real! Really, no tickling funny bones!
One common claim which is believed by many goes straight back to the 16th century – when the Gregorian calendar surpassed the Julian. Those people who failed to learn about the change and still celebrated New Year’s on April 1st became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. Such people were sent on crazy undoable errands, known as fool’s errand or simply tricked into believing something completely untrue.
According to some historians, the custom of April Fools was taken after the Roman festival, Hilaria, celebrated at the end of March, involving games and masquerades where people in disguises used to imitate nobility to devious ends.
It was also conjectured that April Fools’ Day is perfect for going a little wild because of its nearness to Spring Equinox when the earth itself fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
Many people also believe the day to be a northern European tradition that spread to Britain. In some parts of Europe, the day is also called “Poisson d’Avril” or “April Fish” Day. This is probably because in the starting of April, in French streams and rivers, there is plenty of young and foolish fish that are easy to catch. So when people were done with the residents of water, the tradition was to play tricks on the residents of land on April 1st. In the sheer spirit of April Fools’ Day, it is not unusual for people to attach paper fish to other people’s backs and give chocolate fish as gifts in France and Europe.
Another backstory is rooted in the book, The Canterbury Tales (dated 1392) by Geoffrey Chaucer. The line “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two” is a controversial line, the precise meaning of which is still ambiguous. The mention of ’32 March’ was thought to be a joke since there is no March 32. This is assumed to be the earliest reference to April Fools’ Day.
In the present day, even the arbiters of truth are no exception when it comes to passing off fabricated stories as news. Radio stations, TV programs, and websites have set up naive listeners and readers. And while April Fools’ Day may be a day of unshakeable pain or pure delight, it is here to stay. So the best we all can do is to let go of all the times we fell for silly pranks, and perhaps learn to be a little more perceptive this time.