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Origin of April Fools’ Day traced to France

Brad Avakian / Reporter


The root of the first April Fools’ Day is nearly untraceable, since, depending on who you ask, the answer to where this wacky holiday came from will most likely be different. If you happen to ask an Aprilophobic, he might flee before giving his theory of origin. Aprilophobics suffer from the fear of April Fools’ Day.

Theories on where the tradition of April Fools’ Day originated range from Noah’s dove’s premature flight towards dry land, to the resurrection of the Roman God Attis, celebrated with the festival of Hilaria, to the Hindu festival of Huli, which includes a bonfire and dancing to celebrate spring fertility.

The French foundation for this day seems to be the most logical. It is fact that in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII announced adoption of the calendar style known today as Gregorian. This calendar celebrates New Year’s Day on Jan. 1 and serves as an international standard for civilian use.

Before 1582, France used the Julian calendar, which designated April 1 as New Year’s Day. The Romans, the Hindus and a number of other ancient cultures also observed this as the first day of the year since it closely followed the vernal equinox.

As springtime arrives, the skeletons of trees become new with leaves and blooms, the birds return from more southern regions and temperatures warm. The beaches become littered with sunbathers gravitating toward ultraviolet rays beaming from our closest star, the sun.

Despite all of these beautiful rebirths, it proves useful to situate the hope accompanying a New Year in the middle of winter to add something fresh and optimistic to the icy grip of early January.

Pope Gregory XIII apparently thought a festive day in the middle of a dreary winter was God’s will, and the Christian world soon fell in line.

The French who refused to obey this mandate and continued to start their year along with spring were soon labeled fools and became the brunt of practical jokes.

If you were the victim of a joke in France you were called a “poisson d’avril,” or “April Fish,” because a young, naive fish is easily caught. The French find it entertaining to tape a picture of a fish on the backs of their peers, just as many American youth do with “kick me” signs.

It wasn’t until 1752 that England and the American colonies officially changed over to the Gregorian calendar. In Portugal today, you could get flour thrown in your face and in just about any country that participates, including Scotland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Germany and more, you could be sent on a “fool’s errand” as part of the day’s celebration.

Pranks, such as Taco Bell announcing the purchase of the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell, have plagued our media in recent years.

In 1992, National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” program revealed the news that Richard Nixon was running for president again with the slogan of “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.”

Burger King stirred up some controversy in 1998 by publishing a full-page advertisement in USA Today to promote its new “Left-Handed Whopper” that rotated the condiments by 180 degrees for the convenience of 32 million left-handed Americans.

The lighthearted acceptance of our foolishness is the most valuable part of this day, and the real comedy lies in how seriously we usually take ourselves, despite our actions often lacking any real importance or integrity.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens put it best when he said, “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”



John Roberge / KRT Campus