History of April Fool’s Day

posted in: Holidays | 0

April Fool’s Day is a day spent playing pranks or practical jokes to people or spreading hoaxes.  The prank is revealed by shouting “April Fools”.

Even some media outlets enjoy getting involved on the day, and often reveal the following day that it was a fake news story.

But, how did the day get started?

The true origin of the day is unknown.

In 1392, Geoffrey Chaucer published his The Canterbury Tales. “In the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, a vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox on Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.”

Anna of Bohemia
King Richard II of England

“Readers apparently understood this line to mean “32 March”, i.e. April 1.” Although, it is not clear April 1 was the date Chaucer was referencing. Many modern scholars believe there was a copying error which should have read “Syn March” which would have been May 2nd, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anna of Bohemia in 1381.

In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in many European towns.  Those who celebrated New Years on January 1st would make fun of those celebrating in March. {January 1st became common in the mid-16th Century in France}.

French poet referred to Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril which literally means a Fish of April and may be the first reference to a French celebration.

In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1.

French speaking countries continue to refer to the day as April fish. Wikipedia states “This includes attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being noticed. Such fish feature is prominently present on many late 19th- to early 20th-century French April Fools’ Day postcards. Many newspapers also spread a false story on April Fish Day, and a subtle reference to a fish is sometimes given as a clue to the fact that it is an April fool’s joke.”

Tower of London

The first British reference is in 1686, when John Aubrey referred to the celebration as “Fooles holy day”. 

On April 1, 1698 several people were tricked to going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.

In most English-speaking countries, the joking used to {and is supposed to} cease by midday. Around England, a fool is known as various names including a “noodle”, “gob”, “gobby” or “noddy”.

The Scottish used to refer to April Fools’ Day as ‘Huntigowk Day’, although the name has fallen out of use. “The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message that supposedly requests help of some sort. In fact, the message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient, upon reading it, will explain he can only help if he first contacts another person, and sends the victim to this next person with an identical message, with the same result.”


In a 1908 edition of Harper’s Weekly the cartoonist Bertha R. McDonald provided another explanation. “Authorities gravely back with it to the time of Noah and the ark. The London Public Advertiser of March 13, 1769, printed: “The mistake of Noah sending the dove out of the ark before the water had abated, on the first day of April, and to perpetuate the memory of this deliverance it was thought proper, whoever forgot so remarkable a circumstance, to punish them by sending them upon some sleeveless errand similar to that ineffectual message upon which the bird was sent by the patriarch”.

Spanish speaking countries including Mexico, Spain, the Philippines, Colombia and other Hispanic countries celebrate the equivalent of April Fools day on December 28th.

In Mexico, the phrase is ¡Inocente para siempre! which means “Innocent forever!”.

In Colombia, the term used is “Pásala por Inocentes”, which roughly means: “Let it go; today it’s Innocent’s Day.”

In Belgium, this day is also known as the “Day of the innocent children” or “Day of the stupid children”. It used to be a day where parents, grandparents, and teachers would fool the children in some way. But the celebration of this day has died out in favor of April Fools’ Day.

April Fools day is met with mixed feelings and can be very controversial. Often it depends on the person on home the hoke, hoax and prank is played and to what extent it is carried out.

What do you think about April Fools Day?

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