April Fool!

All of us have at some time or another played what we perceived as a successful prank on an unsuspecting friend or family member on April Fools’ Day without perhaps quite knowing the exact origin of the custom.

As previously mentioned in this chapter, the New Year’s date was officially moved from March 25 to January 1 in 1582, according to the changes instituted by Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced the Gregorian calendar. Different European countries followed suit at different times, some as late as 1753. 

Playing tricks on people on the first day in April originated in France during the sixteenth century. In ancient times, great festivals were usually celebrated in an octave, that is, they would continue for eight days, of which the first and the last day were the principle days of celebration. Hence, according to the old calendar, March 25 signified the first day of the octave celebrations of the New Year and April 1, the last, signalling the close of the New Year’s feasting. Both days were, therefore, days of extraordinary merrymaking. Then, in 1582, Catholic France adopted the new calendar – the first day in January was suddenly decreed the beginning of the year, and all celebrations on April 1 were abolished. 

In the days when news travelled mainly by foot, communications were not instant as they are in modern times. Many people did not receive the news of the changed New Year’s Day for a long time. Others strongly objected at having the New Year shifted to the first day of January, which was after all, a freezing time for most of Europe. Thus, the public’s annoyance resulted in the taunting and tricking of friends, family, and public officials by sending them on fool’s errands and playing pranks on them, hoping to indicate to everyone that April 1 was still the closing day of the New Year celebrations that had been traditionally accompanied with much hilarity. 

This tradition spread to England and Scotland in the eighteenth century and was later introduced to the American colonies. In modern times, the custom of taunting and tricking is still recognised worldwide on April 1.


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