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Where Does the Fool in April Fools’ Come From?

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The origins of April Fools’ Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1582, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before this time, New Year’s Day fell on March 25 rather than January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year at the beginning of April were called “fools” by their early adopting contemporaries. Even before this transition, the New Year had long been associated with the term “fool.” In medieval France, the Feast of Fools fell on January 1. At this popular festival hijinks abounded: Christian ritual was burlesquely imitated, a fake pope was elected, and high and low officials swapped jobs for a day. Feast of Fools was likely modeled after the similarly themed pagan festival Saturnalia.

As this French tradition died out during the 16th century, a new one sprung up in the form of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day. In France, the fooled party is called the poisson d’avril, which literally means “April fish.” The customary prank involves pinning a paper fish, also called the poisson d’avril, to to a friend’s back. This is not the only April Fools’ custom involving paper and backs. In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is called Gowkie Day—gowk is another name for the cuckoo, which is a common symbol of the fool. The pranks continue into April 2, Taily Day, when friends traditionally attach a “kick me” sign to their friends’ backs. Other countries have their own customs: Brazil celebrates April 1 as Dia da Mentira, or “Lie Day,” in which people try to fool their loved ones for comedic effect. Though not directly related to April Fools’ celebrations, in northern India people throw colored water and powder on others as part of the Hindu festival of Holi, which generally falls in February or March. One Holi tradition is strikingly similar to the now defunct Feast of Fools; for one day people playfully trade caste, status, gender, and age roles.

The beginning of spring marks a time of lighthearted pranking around the world. Do you know of any other April Fools’ Day customs? What are some of your favorite April Fools’ pranks?

42 Comments

  1. Laura Nass -  April 19, 2014 - 1:31 pm

    Probably around 5-6 years ago, my boyfriend took a copy of my computer’s background image and superimposed it with a picture of a cracked LCD screen, while I was in another room. When I walked back into this room he was sitting at my desk, crying and apologizing for having cracked my screen.

    When I realized that the screen was just fine (windows that cover the background are not cracked) I laughed long and loud, and that “cracked” image remains my background image to this day :)

    Reply
  2. Nanawiredu -  April 13, 2014 - 3:26 am

    Is part of FOOLS life

    Reply
  3. Hannah -  April 8, 2014 - 4:28 am

    On April Fools I put whip cream on my sisters face and gave her salt water! I also made her favorite doll look like an evil Voldemort ( Sort of, that’s what I have been told)

    Reply
    • Nanawiredu -  April 13, 2014 - 3:25 am

      Is part of FOOLS life

      Reply
  4. 363 -  April 7, 2014 - 5:52 am

    I LIKE HORSES!

    Reply
    • Me -  April 8, 2014 - 3:56 am

      mental.

      Reply
  5. sidney -  April 2, 2014 - 2:58 am

    isn’t it supposed to be “northern India”?

    Reply
  6. Hello -  April 1, 2014 - 7:02 pm

    My whole class tried to prank my teacher today and we all said that we didn’t do our homework loblol

    Reply
    • NixonSpade -  April 10, 2014 - 1:38 pm

      Loblol?

      On a website where actual words are key, don’t you think you shouldn’t say loblol?

      Just a little bit?

      ~Nix

      Reply
      • jaki -  April 22, 2014 - 11:36 am

        im “lol”bing my “butt” “off”!!!!

        Reply
  7. angie -  April 1, 2014 - 5:34 pm

    cool

    Reply
  8. m -  April 1, 2014 - 5:26 pm

    awesome

    Reply
  9. deeksha -  April 1, 2014 - 4:10 pm

    interesting

    Reply
    • angie -  April 1, 2014 - 5:35 pm

      wow

      Reply
  10. DemiSherLokiWizard21 -  April 1, 2014 - 10:02 am

    My dad’s birthday is April First, and today we gave him frozen cereal! He stuck his spoon in and there was just a loud “THUNK” and his spoon skidded. It was hilarious. We also gave him “sunny-side-up eggs” but they were really halved apricots in yogurt! XD (Shh, don’t tell, but tonight I’m gonna put mentos frozen in ice cubes into my younger brothers’ Cokes.) Oh, Dad? How did you like your soy sauce-and-sprite ‘Coke’? I love April Fools Day!!!

    Reply
    • angie -  April 1, 2014 - 5:36 pm

      awesome

      Reply
    • mirrordragon -  April 5, 2014 - 3:35 am

      lol nice trolling

      Reply
    • 363 -  April 7, 2014 - 5:52 am

      looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool

      Reply
  11. Pszczolowski -  April 1, 2014 - 4:47 am

    Poles, in Europe, describe this day (01 IV) “prima-aprilis” and it is occasion for jokes

    Reply
  12. Repeat -  March 31, 2014 - 9:45 pm

    I superglued a coin on the ground and watched as people tried so hard to get it off

    Reply
  13. kipper johns is a bozz -  March 31, 2014 - 3:59 pm

    jokes APRIL FOOLZ DAY PEOPLEZZ

    Reply
  14. kipper johns is a bozz -  March 31, 2014 - 3:58 pm

    the world is going to explode in two years

    Reply
  15. Loser -  March 31, 2014 - 3:49 pm

    This post stinks

    Reply
    • N00B -  March 31, 2014 - 3:53 pm

      N00B

      Reply
  16. dZIN -  March 31, 2014 - 12:21 pm

    dZIIIN FOR THE WIN, TSM TSM

    Reply
  17. lol -  March 31, 2014 - 10:49 am

    LOLOLOLLOLOLOL
    TROLOLOLOLOLOLOLO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  18. JediMel -  March 31, 2014 - 10:16 am

    Well, two pranks I’ve heard of, but they aren’t customs are these:

    1) Twins going to school and switching classes

    and the other one is kind of weird, I only heard of it once:

    2) A newly wed (not exactly new, but 1-2 years) call parents and say how excited they are that they are going to have a baby in x_months, when the daughter/daughter-in-law isn’t pregnant in the first place.

    I’ve never done any April Fool’s jokes that I can remember, at least not any good ones. I’m not good at it, and the times I’ve tried I’ve been way to predictable (saying simple things like: there’s a fly on your shirt, or there’s __ in/on __).

    Reply
  19. Greg Brown -  March 31, 2014 - 4:41 am

    My guess is that the genesis of April Fools Day came about agriculturally. Anyone fooled by the first warm spells in the weather and went ahead and planted their fields before April, most often were surprised, if not ruined, by one last snowfall or freeze that often hits around the end of March or beginning of April.

    Reply
    • kipps -  March 31, 2014 - 3:57 pm

      who cares just enjoy the day :) :) :) :) :)

      Reply
  20. hello mella -  March 31, 2014 - 1:58 am

    HAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Peter Bearden -  March 31, 2014 - 8:42 pm

      @ Greg Brown, fascinating reading of the day, thanks!

      Reply
  21. Jenny -  March 30, 2014 - 8:15 pm

    Teach me how to use english correctly in grammatical aspect

    Reply
  22. DUDE -  March 30, 2014 - 6:37 pm

    We just plan fake stuff

    Reply
  23. Katelyn -  March 30, 2014 - 3:01 pm

    There is somebody at my school. Their grandma has their birthday on April fools day too.

    Reply
  24. anonymous -  March 30, 2014 - 1:15 pm

    I like to grease toilet seats.

    Reply
  25. Catherine Mori -  March 29, 2014 - 5:46 pm

    You mean 1582 NOT 1852!

    Reply
  26. A dude -  March 29, 2014 - 3:59 pm

    Yay first comment!!!!

    Reply
  27. Archon -  March 29, 2014 - 2:06 pm

    First line, second paragraph; should be, “a new one SPRANG up!”

    Reply
  28. Ein -  March 29, 2014 - 11:10 am

    This is probably 1 of the most interesting forum post. I have always wondered what was the origin (or in this case a theory of the origin). Apparently each culture has it’s own version, and it’s really fascinating.

    Reply
  29. Katelyn -  March 29, 2014 - 10:09 am

    My birthday is on April fools day!

    Reply

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