April Fool! (#atozchallenge)

Today begins the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, meaning that today I have to post something that begins with the letter A. Today is also April Fool’s Day, the subject of this post.


The first time we see anything about April Fool’s Day is in The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1392 opus of great poetry and bad spelling. For the Romans, March 25 (my birthday) was a holiday known as Hilaria; for people in Spain and much of the Spanish-speaking world, December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is a day of jokes and hoaxes. In Italy, France, and Belgium, people tack paper fish to each other, declaring “April fish!” when the trick is found.

French April Fool's Day (source: thecolor.com)
French April Fool’s Day (source: thecolor.com)

Purim, the Jewish celebration of their deliverance from death at the hands of the Persian Empire as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther, is celebrated around March 15 with masks and costumes, drinking and merry-making. Hindus celebrate Holi, a holiday that celebrates the harvesting of the wheat crop, in early March, by dressing in old clothes and dousing each other with colored powder.

No one is really sure when (or why) the first of April became a day of practical jokes and hoaxes. The most logical explanation is that, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII replaced the old Julian calendar, which said that April 1 was the beginning of a new year, with a calendar that became known as the Gregorian calendar, which said that January 1 was the first day of the new year. Naturally, there were lots of people who were unable or unwilling to accept this change (or who hadn’t heard about it). People who knew about the change and accepted it started making fun of those who didn’t, who were now called “April fools.” This explanation has problems, however. For one thing, it doesn’t explain all of the celebrations of the day before the new calendar. As evidenced by old Geoff Chaucer, it was known at least since the 14th century, and besides, England didn’t adopt the new calendar until the middle of the 18th century (and had to drop eleven days from September, 1752 to get back into sync).

A professor of history at Boston University, Joseph Boskin, wrote an article published in 1983 that said a court jester named Kugel convinced the Emperor Constantine that he should be allowed to run the Empire for one day, and that day was April 1. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and reprinted in many newspapers across the United States. Turns out, though, that Boskin made the whole thing up, and the AP and all those newspapers had to print a retraction. April Fool!

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