Over 300 Years Ago

On April 1, 1700, a tradition fondly referred to as April Fools’ Day was born when the English designated April 1 as a day to perpetrate pranks, practical jokes, and hoaxes on friends and neighbors. April Fools’ Day, also often referred to as All Fools Day has since become a tradition among cultures across the globe. The tradition has gone so far as to see newspapers, magazines and other (otherwise reliable) media and information sources to run false stories.

The Early Days of April Fools’ Day

The custom of playing pranks and perpetrating hoaxes on April; Fools’ Day has indeed spread to virtually every country and culture. April Fools’ Day encompasses the Roman Festival of Hilaria, The Holi Festival in India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools.

In The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, the “Nun’s Priest Tale” is set March bigan thritty dayes and two. Scholars of today believe that there was a copying error in the manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Which means the original passage actually meant 32 days after March, or May 2, leading readers to misunderstand the passage to mean 32 March or April 1.

Around 1508 the poet Eloy d’ Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril which translates loosely to April Fool, believed to be a reference to the holiday. Then in 1539, poet Eduard de Done wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1. In 1636, John Aubrey referred to April Fools’ Day as “Fools Holy Day” which is believed to be the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, many people were fooled into going to the Tower of London to see the lions washed.

During the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25th in most European towns and villages. New Year’s was a week long holiday that would end on April 1. Many writers suggest that April Fools’ Day originated by those who celebrated New Year’s on January 1 making fun of those who celebrated New Year’s in March. The use of January 1 as New Year’s Day was popular in France by the mid-16th century and was adopted officially in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.

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