Characterized by silly practical jokes, April Fools’ Day has a rich history of prank-pulling since the tradition gained mass popularity at the start of the 18th century.
“Celebrated” annually on April 1, fun-loving jokers have been seizing the opportunity to pull playful jokes on their friends –- and sometimes their foes –- for hundreds of years.
Sometimes called All Fool’s Day, there are many theories to explain April Fools’ exact origins.
According to a History.com article titled, “1700: April Fools tradition popularized,” “Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. ... People who were slow to get this news, or failed to recognize (that) the start of the new year had moved to Jan. 1 … (those who) continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.”
Infoplease.com expanded on this explanation in its article titled, “April Fools’ Day: Origin and History” by David Johnson and Shmuel Ross. Johnson and Ross said that pranks ... ranged from “sending them on ‘fool's errands’ or trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, the practice spread throughout Europe.”
But there are problems with this widely accepted explanation, according to Johnson and Ross theory.
“It doesn't fully account for the spread of April Fools' Day to other European countries,” they wrote.
They point out that the Gregorian calendar “was not adopted by England until 1752,” when “April Fools' Day was already well-established there by that point.” Another issue is the lack of “direct historical evidence for this explanation” — instead, there is only conjecture.
According to history.com, “Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, celebrated in Rome at the end of March involving people dressed up in disguises.” Also, the website states that April Fools’ Day could have been tied to the vernal equinox or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere — at a time when Mother Nature fooled people with “unpredictable weather.”
Regardless, the popularity of April Fools’ Day caught on rapidly throughout Britain in the 18th century, and has continued to be celebrated across various countries and cultures.
Scotland celebrated April Fools over two days, characterized by “the hunting gowk (a cuckoo bird and a symbol for a fool) ... and people were sent on phony errands,” according to history.com. Day 2, or “Tailie Day” involved pranks played on people’s derrieres such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
In her article titled “April Fool’s [sic] Day,” posted to the Irish Cultures and Customs website, Bridget Haggerty explored the Irish and Celtic traditions surrounding April Fools’ Day: “A common practical joke was to send someone to deliver a note that read ‘send the fool further [sic].’ In many places, these 'fool's errands' would be accompanied by a verse for the recipient, which said, ‘Don't you laugh, and don't you smile, send the gowk another mile.’”
Khaled Ahmed, in his article titled, “Origin of April Fools’ Day,” published April 4, 2012, in the Pakistani newspaper “The Express Tribune,” wrote the following: “Iranians play jokes on each other on the 13th day of the Persian New Year ... which falls on April 1 or April 2. This day, celebrated as far back as 536 BC, is called Sizdah Bedar and is the oldest prank tradition in the world still alive today.”
Ahmed also wrote that the “Flemish tradition is for children to lock out their parents or teachers, letting them in only if they promise to bring treats the same evening or the next day.”
Some make the claim that April Fools’ Day is malicious and misleading, like “The Atlantic Wire” reporters Jen Doll and Rebecca Greenfield, who refer to April Fools’ Day as “hell” in their April 1, 2013, article titled “Is April Fools’ Day the Worst Holiday,” published on “Yahoo! News.”
“It’s not a real holiday. It’s creepy and manipulative,” Doll and Greenfield wrote. “It’s just a day in which everyone agrees to be foolish” and no one “(feels) good about anything. It’s a day in which we are … sort of rude ... and even a little bit nasty. Is there any kind, loving, generous April Fools’ Day joke?” they asked.
“No,” Doll and Greenfield said: “Because an April Fools’ Day joke is based on making someone else look stupid.”
On the other hand, Ashley Macha finds the humor associated with April Fools’ Day is healthy. In her article, “Why April Fools’ Day is Good for Your Health,” posted April 1, 2013, on health.com, she wrote, “Laughing can have a positive effect on brain activity and relieve stress and anxiety. Laughing may also be good for your heart; it has a beneficial effect on blood pressure and heart rate, as well as relaxes your blood vessels, which could reduce strain on the heart.”
April Fools’ Day gained its popularity because the collective human race enjoys a good laugh -sometimes at another person’s expense. So, just be wary of everyone, and make sure the pranks don’t cause heart attacks — that would not be healthy.