April Fools’ Day: Ridiculously Weird Origins

April Fools’ Day, or more accurately called “the day that everyone lies to each other,”  is one of the stranger holidays on the calendar, mostly because it seems to be just one of those things that we, as a culture, collectively agreed upon.  It’s on no public calendars anywhere except for possibly the Grand Duchy of Jokia, however, almost every country has some version of the holiday, which seems to be more agreed upon than the need for a United Nations.

"You're in luck Jokia, we're not adopting a resolution to allow you to be invaded.  Oh wait, 'April Fools!'"

“You’re in luck Jokia, we’re not adopting a resolution to allow you to be invaded. Oh wait, ‘April Fools!'”

Turns out that the holiday may have origins that are far older than previously thought.  There are three original holidays that April Fools’ Day can trace its origins to: the Roman festival aptly named Hilaria, the Indian festival Holi, and the medieval Feast of Fools.

In medieval times, being temporarily less terrifying was considered a clever prank.

In medieval times, being temporarily less terrifying was considered a clever prank.

While the claim is disputed as to the meaning of the passage, The Canterbury Tales, specifically “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” contains one of the first references to April Fools’ Day in western literature.

 

"Ah, the ribald humor my 10th grade English teacher interpreted for me.  Grand."

“Ah, the ribald humor my 10th grade English teacher interpreted for me. Grand.”

Another possible reference to the holiday can be found in a 1508 writing by the French poet Eloy d’Amerval when he mentioned a “poisson d’avril,” which when literally translated means “April Fish” but contextually it is a reference to “April Fools.”

Usually French fish based hilarity ends in the back of a dank kitchen on top of a hot stove.

Usually French fish-based hilarity ends in the back of a dank kitchen on top of a hot stove.

There may also be a more practical reason for the holiday, as sometime in the 16th century the practice of celebrating the new year moved officially to January 1st, while many still celebrated at the end of March.  In a sense, to continue celebrating then was considered foolish, so this may also have something to do with the origin of the holiday as it exists today.

"Hahaha he doesn't even follow the right calendar; what an idiot!"

“Hahaha he doesn’t even follow the right calendar; what an idiot!”

Ultimately, by the mid-19th century, the practice that we know and love was well established, and the tradition has carried on ever since.  So next time you pull one of those “hilarious” office pranks that everyone politely pretends to like, or you jeopardize your marriage by feeding your spouse something that isn’t food, you can thank your ancestors for their weird festivals, cryptic references, and calendar confusions!

What kind of April Fools' Day would it be if we didn't leave you with one more creepy medieval painting.  You're welcome.

What kind of April Fools’ Day would it be if we didn’t leave you with one more creepy medieval painting. You’re welcome.

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Brendan