As it was called years ago, All Fools'
Day is observed in many
countries around the world. The origin of April Fool's Day remains clouded
in obscurity. But what is clear is that the tradition of a day devoted to
foolery had ancient roots. As we look back in time, many ancient
predecessors of April Fool's Day are found.
A French legendary
The most widespread theory about the origin of April Fool's Day
links the Gregorian calendar
In 1582 France became the first country to switch from the
Julian to the Gregorian calendar. This meant that the beginning of the
year was moved from the end of March to January 1. If someone failed to
keep up with the change and continued to celebrate the New Year between
March 25th and April 1st, various jokes would be played on him. This story
might explain why April 1st specifically became the date of the modern
There have been quite a few attempts to provide
mythological explanations for the rise of April Fool's Day.
One story dates back to Roman mythology, particularly
the myth of Ceres (the Goddess
of grain and the harvest) and Proserpina. In Roman mythology Pluto, the God of the Dead, abducted
Proserpina and brought her to live with him in the underworld. Proserpina
called out to her mother Ceres for help, but Ceres, who could only hear
the echo of her daughter's voice, searched in vain for Proserpina. The
fruitless search of Ceres for her daughter was commemmorated during the
Roman festival of Cerealia and
believed by some to have been the mythological antecedent of the
fool's errands popular on
British folklore linked April Fool's Day to the town
of Gotham. According to the
legend, it was traditional in the 13th century for any road that the King
travelled over to become public property. People in Gotham didn't want to
lose their main road and spread a false story to stop the King. A
messenger was sent to Gotham after King John learned the people's trick.
But when the messenger arrived in Gotham he found the town was full of
lunatics who were engaged in
foolish activities such as drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in
roofless fences. The King fell
for the hoax and declared the town too foolish to warrant punishment. And ever
since then, April Fool's Day has supposedly commemmorated their trickery.
Anthropologists and cultural historians provide their
own explanations for the rise of April Fool's Day. According to them, the
celebration traces its roots back to festivals marking the Springtime.
Spring is the time of year when the weather becomes
fickle, as if Nature is
playing tricks on man, and festivals occurring during the Spring
traditionally mirrored this sense of whimsy and surprise. They often
involved temporary inversions of the social order. Normal behavior no
longer governed during the brief moment of transition as the old world
died and the new cycle of seasons was born. Practical jokes,trickery,
and the turning upside down of status expectations were all allowed.
In addition,the linkage between April Foolery and the Springtime
is seen in another story that traces the origin of the custom back to the
abundance of fish to be found in French streams during early April when
the young fish had just hatched. These young fish were easy to fool with a
hook and lure. Therefore, the French called them 'Poisson d'Avril' or
'April Fish.' Soon it became customary to fool people on April 1, as
a way of celebrating the abundance of foolish fish.