Origins of April Fools’ Day
The origin of April Fools’ Day is a bit tricky and thus fitting for the day of mischief and tomfoolery. The origin is not only unknown and debated, but each theory is a joke in and of itself. Below are some of the most popular theories about the history of April Fools’ day.
Theory 1: The Canterbury Tales
Dating all the way back to 1392, some historians attribute the impish tradition of April Fools’ Day to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, specifically “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” This particular tale in Chaucer’s work emphasizes foolishness. Moreover, the tale takes place on March 32nd (line 3188-3190). This may be a playful way of referring to April 1st while also making someone feel like an idiot. However, while some theorize that Chaucer is pulling a prank, others think it may simply be a misprint.
Theory 2: Switching from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar
Until the Gregorian calendar was adopted, the Julian calendar was used worldwide. With the Julian calendar, the new year took place on April 1st. In the late 1500s, France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which changed the new year to January 1st. This change caused confusion, and some historian hypothesize that April Fools’ Day became a day to mock those who struggled to adapt to the new calendar.
Theory 3: Vernal Equinox
Statistically, the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere has unpredictable weather. It also takes place at the end of March, which is close to April 1st. Some think it’s a time when Mother Nature fools the unprepared with quickly changing weather.
Theory 4: Spring Festival
Alex Boese, author of The Museum of Hoaxes: A History of Outrageous Pranks and Deceptions, speculates that April Fools’ Day originated as a festival to celebrate spring. “Throughout history we can find many similar spring festivals that usually involve pranks and mischief,” he said.