April 1st: A Brief History of April Fools’ Day

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April 1st is regarded worldwide as “April Fools Day” or “Le premier d’avril” in French meaning April 1st. On this day, people play pranks on each other and make jokes. Now observed around the globe, most people are oblivious to how the day came to be instituted.

Historians speculate that it started back in 1582 in France when France switched to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar. In the times before that, people in Europe based their calendars on the vernal equinox, that is, the beginning of Spring. The new year was celebrated on or around April 1, and in many places in Europe, the beginning of the new year was celebrated around March 25.

In a bid to change things, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, and instituted that the new calendar would start on January 1. This was met with a lot of resistance and many people refused to accept the drastic change. Some people also didn’t know about it and so simply followed the old calendar. Consequently, the adherents of the Gregorian calendar began to mock the ones who followed the traditional calendar by calling them “poisson d’avril” meaning “April fish” signifying gullibility and naïveté. One of the common pranks was to have a paper fish placed on their back, something which persists till today.

Other historians date the day back to about 2000 years before the Gregorian calendar, in the Ancient Roman Empire. They celebrated the festival of Hilaria, which translates to joyful in Latin at the end of March by those who were part of the Cybele cult. For this, people would dress up in disguises and mock fellow citizens.

Today, it has spread from France and Ancient Rome to all parts of the world with pranks, some arguably more serious than others. At the end of the day, it’s all laughter. But beware, you could very well be the next victim of a prank by someone near you.

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