Origins of April Fools' Day

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Mon Apr 05, 2021

For more than several centuries and in many different cultures, April Fools’ Day is celebrated every year on the 1st of April. Some of the traditions of April Fools’ include playing practical jokes on others - pranks, hoaxes, etc. - and then yelling “April Fools” to indicate that it was a joke and not to be taken seriously. However fun as it may seem, the origins of this day has been a mystery. Some theories state that it stems from adopting the new calendar, whereas some other theories see it as a celebration of the turn of seasons.

The calendar theory - started by historians that speculate the origins of April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582. This is the time around which the French switched from the Julian calendar to the Georgian calendar. The people who were late to receive the news or did not recognize that the new year began on January 1st and started celebrating the coming of the new year during the end of March through to the first week of April became the laughing stocks and were called “April fools”. 

During the 18th century, April Fools’ Day also spread through the UK and Scotland where the tradition was a two-day event that started with the “hunting of the gowk”. “Gowk” is a synonym for the cuckoo bird or a symbol for a fool in Scottish tradition. The second day was called the Tailie Day which involved playing pranks on people’s derrieres. The most common of them being sticking a “kick me” on one’s back. 

Another common belief for the origins of April Fools’ is the celebration of seasons in different countries. For example, the festival of Hilaria celebrated by the Romans on March 25th rejoices the resurrection of Attis or Holi - which is celebrated throughout India which celebrates the triumph of good over evil and there is also the Jewish festival of Purim that focuses on the time the Jewish people were saved from persecution from the ancient Persian empire. 

There isn’t one clear demarcation between the different origins of April Fools’. But, it is definitely a celebratory event where the main purpose of the day is to spread happiness and joy in the form of benign jokes and pranks that are intended to be taken lightheartedly. Through the years, there have been many interesting ways to prank and hoax the general public. For example, Google almost notoriously pranks its users with their “telepathic searches” and allowing people to play Pac Man on Google Maps or when BBC TV showcased a program on their show “Panorama” where they ran an entire segment talking about how the Swiss grew pasta on trees! 

 

 

 

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2021 - Spring - Issue 9
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