The Mysterious Origins of April Fools' Day
Updated: Dec 28, 2021
Today I woke up and realized it's April Fools' Day. Fortunately, I'm no longer in high school and don't have to worry about diligently checking my back for signs begging, "Kick Me!" That may sound a bit brutal to some people today. But for those of us who grew up pre-2000, such pranks were common in high schools everywhere. I never indulged in playing pranks too much because I soon realized that they quickly escalate.
I remember, one time, I hid under my brother's bed and waited for him to go to bed then I eased my hand up to grab his ankle. Needless to say, he completely lost it and broke into tears while I rolled in the floor laughing. A fight ensued and the parents got involved. He might've been mildly traumatized for a few years following. Today, I might feel a little guilty for it were it not for the fact that this was all part of the mutual torment that brothers and sisters put each other through. The family that torments together, stays together. That's a thing, right?
Another time, when I was in college, I worked at a retail store which shall remain nameless. I shrink-wrapped my supervisor's car keys and locked him in a storage room. He re-paid me by wrapping my car in cellophane. The whole car. Those were fun pranks that stayed within psychologically healthy limits.
But I can't help but wonder where does tradition for April Fools' pranking begin?
April Fools' might have links to the ancient Roman festival Hilaria (Latin for joyful). Hilaria was celebrated by the Cybele cult at the end of March and involved people dressing in costumes to mock fellow citizens, even magistrates. Apparently, this practice was inspired by the Egyptian legend of Isis, Osiris, and Seth.
According to The History Channel, it's believed that April Fool's goes back to the late 1500s when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (the reasons for that are a-whole-nother story). Since Twitter and telephones didn't exist, news of the change was slow to travel. So folks folks didn't realize the New Year began on January 1st instead continued to celebrate the New Year during the last week of March. So they were made fun of. Hard.
Interestingly, though the tradition began in France, it spread throughout Europe and Great Britain and, of course, into the United States and Australia. By the 1700s April Fool's became a staple tradition in western culture.
In France, the height of humor was to pin a paper fish on the back of the unwitting "victim." The April Fish (poisson d'avril) is said to symbolize a gullible person who's "easily hooked." Why a fish? It's not clear. Some say that fish were plenty in the spring and the young fish were easy to fool into taking the hook. Today, in some parts of France, chocolate fish are given out to commemorate the day.
Apparently Scotland embraced April Fools' with abandon, making it a two-day event. On the first day people were sent on phony errands (a wild goose chase) called "hunting the gowk (cuckoo bird)." The second day was filled with pinning fake tails or "kick me" signs on people's bums. Well, that's one mystery explained for me. Since I grew up in Kentucky and we have a long Scottish-Irish history, I now see where pranks such as "snipe" hunting and the "kick me" signs come from. I don't know if snipe hunting is an actual April Fools' event in Kentucky, but I do know it's a popular method for men to prank and razz new hunters. Come to think of it, I haven't seen too many people indulge in April Fools' pranks in a long time. Not that I'm too sad about that. I'm more than happy to leave those days behind!
History Channel Editors. "April Fools' Day: The Origins, Meaning, & Hoaxes." www.history.com. Mar 26, 2021 (Original): Mar 30, 2017 (Updated).
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