April Fools’ Day is an annual godsend for the most mischievous among us, as the first of the month is a time-honored tradition of fooling friends and family with tricks and pranks.
While this naughtiest time of the year can see imaginative stunts and hoaxes amuse many in real life and on social media, frequently they fall flat and prove just plain annoying.
But although April Fools’ Day is certainly—for better or worse-a time for pranks, exactly why is shrouded in mystery.
Like other widely-anticipated days, such as Christmas, April Fools’ Day has relatively uncertain origins.
Rob Weiner, Popular Culture Librarian at Texas Tech University, suggests no one really knows how April Fools’ Day, also called All Fools’ Day, first captured the public’s imagination.
He told Newsweek: “The true origins of April Fools’ Day are obscure and lost throughout history, yet April Fools’ day is celebrated around the world from North and South America, to Asia and Europe and Africa.
“It is my view the idea for a day to play pranks and joke on one another was passed through oral traditions and stories initially.
“How else does one explain that there are similar ‘holidays’ throughout Europe—from Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, England and France?
“With every legend and myth, there is often a kernel of truth, no matter how small that may be.”
As with much in history, explanations for the origination of April Fools’ Day sometimes appear to be a little at odds with each other.
Weiner believes points out there are many, occasionally competing, theories as to how April Fools’ Day originated.
He said: “None of the following explanations fully account for the exact origins of April Fools’ Day because pranks have played a role in celebrations and rituals throughout human history.
“April 1 being a day of fools has long been in legend and folklore for several centuries, and various cultures had days of foolishness around the start of April.
“The name April Fools’ Day came from the act of people playing practical jokes toward the end of March or on the first day of April.
“Often times these were just silly pranks, but some did and do use the day for more malevolent jokes.”
One states that it originated in France in 1582 (some say as early as 1564) Charles IX proclaimed the new year would no longer begin on Easter, but in January. Pope Gregory XIII is said to have ordered that the Gregorian Calendar replace the Julian Calendar, allowing January 1 to be the start of the new year.
Weiner said: “Those who did not follow the new calendar had pranks played on them in the middle of March through [to] April 1, because those who clung onto the old date were ‘fools’.”
In Italy, those who celebrated the festival Hilaria at the end of March dressed up and made fun of one another.
Britain changed its calendar in 1752 to January 1 and embraced April Fools’ Day by sending people on “foolish errands”
Weiner added: “However, one legend states that it goes back even further to the 13th century to a township in Britain called Gotham.
“When they heard that King John was going to come through their village they refused entry because they didn’t want to lose their road which would have become the king’s public property.
“The king being angry sent his soldiers into the town only to find the town’s people acting foolishly. April Fools celebrates their odd behavior.”
The day may be related to the vernal equinox (March 21) when people are fooled by a sudden change of weather.
By the 1600s, the habit of sending “idiots” on “fools’ errands” in the springtime was a popular pastime in the UK.
In Greece, it is said that if one successfully plays a prank on someone, the prankster will have a year of good luck.
Weiner also suggested the tradition could have roots in Asia, adding: “Some argue there is a connection to the Hindu festival Holi, celebrated in late March, where people forgive and forget past grievances by throwing colored powder and water on each other.”