Are You Ready for All Fools’ Day?

This Wednesday will be April 1st, which is known as April Fools’ Day (or All Fools’ Day). Many of us won’t even know it’s here until someone plays a prank. One way or another, we’re all supposed to be fools on this day. Why is that?

Opinions vary on the exact origin of April Fools’ Day. In ancient times the 1st of April was often celebrated as New Year’s Day – particularly by the Romans.

This makes sense, since the day followed right on the heels of the vernal equinox. This was the beginning of spring, and a time of renewal. A tradition of celebrating the New Year on the 1st of April persisted in Europe through the Medieval era.

Fine, but why the foolishness and pranks?

We may have Pope Gregory XIII to blame for that, according to several sources. You see, it was Gregory who insisted on moving New Year’s to the 1st of January, to correspond with his move away from the old Julian Calendar to his new Gregorian Calendar.

April 1st became more of a folk tradition after that, and many participants in April 1st celebrations questioned why church and state officials would the start of the year to the middle of winter, rather than the start of spring. They clung to their old ways, and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1st.

Modern-minded folk – who accepted the new ways – would often mock these traditionalists by sending them on “Fool’s Errands” on April 1st. These consisted of pranks wherein the victim would be convinced of something false, and sent on a quest.

A modern “Fool’s Errand” might consist of convincing a friend that he’s won the lottery, and sending him to collect his “prize,” only to discover that it was all a hoax.

We were happy with this explanation, until research brought us to Info Please, who point out that April Fools’ Day was more widely adopted in Europe than the Gregorian calendar was for many years. They chronicle an alternate theory involving a Roman Emperor who allowed his court jesters to rule his kingdom for a day.

That may be true, but we like to think that it’s the warming winds of early spring that have an effect on people’s moods, and have solidified the April Fools’ Day tradition through the ages. It is the promise of spring that makes people want to get out of the house and do things. It makes us giddy, and silly – hence the association with foolishness and pranks.

Whatever its origins may be, the tradition of All Fools’ Day has indeed persisted into the modern era. So, be careful before you sit down, or open a jar, or walk into a room. You never know what pranks people are playing.

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