Historical theories on how this funny day got its start

I remember the one prank I really believed. I was in high school and I was dating someone older – a big no-no from my parents. Like many school kids, I didn’t want to go to school, and any excuse would be a lifesaver.

My boyfriend at the time messaged me to say that my high school had caught on fire. He said he saw it on the news, and started sending me fake links. At first, I thought, “Sure pal,” yet he insisted. In my naiveté, even though I couldn’t find anything in those empty links, I was convinced my school had burnt down. Was I happy? Sad? Confused? I didn’t know.

Finally, the joke burst out: “April Fools!” he said, laughing. I couldn’t believe how gullible I’d been.

When we think about April Fools’ Day, people don’t talk much about its history. But there are several theories. The most common hypothesis is that it is tied to France’s switch to the Julian calendar in the mid 1500s. Until that switch, Northern Europeans celebrated the New Year on Easter, not on January 1 as we do today. It took time for rural communities to adapt to the new calendar system, so they were referred to as “fools” from more mainstream folks.

Other historians believe April Fool’s Day was tied to an event that occurred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. In the third and fourth centuries AD, a court jester could ask his Sovereign if he could be the ruler for the day. Constantine’s jester, Kugel, who was the first appointed King for the day, decreed that April 1 was associated with fun and games. The word “fool” is a synonym for jester.

And lastly, since ancient times, people have attended festival days to celebrate new growth and the earth’s renewal. Historians note that celebrations like this were often attended by people wearing costumes and generally acting silly. And it’s no wonder – the first of spring is an exciting time that’s associated with new beginnings, young love, and people feeling playful.

Whatever your beliefs of what the origin of April Fool’s Day is, it’s always fun to surprise someone with a practical joke or prank – albeit one that’s safe.

Happy April Fool’s!

1 Comment

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