A look into how the oddest holiday in our calendars came to be.
When I was in elementary school, many of the boys in my class, myself included, would get in trouble every time April 1 came around. As young boys, we would frequently engage in horseplay with one another on this day. Yet, now that I think of it, our “horseplay” was more akin to abusing one another. This would look like slapping each other on the back, tying someone’s shoelaces together so they would trip or hiding the only chewed up Ticonderoga pencil your desk neighbor had. As long as our antics were topped off with screaming the phrase, “April Fools!” we believed our petulant behavior was justified.
The tradition of April Fool’s Day is an odd one, and many people may be wondering, “Where did this holiday even come from?” Well, if you have asked yourself that question, then you are in luck! Here are a few theories concerning the origin of this eccentric holiday.
The Gregorian Calendar
Our initial theory finds its roots in medieval France. In the year 1582, Pope Leo XIII substituted France’s traditional Julian calendar with the Gregorian Calendar. Although the change was widely known, there were still some citizens of France who were not with the times. These citizens celebrated New Year’s on Jan. 1, despite the year novelly beginning on the first of April.
As a result of their ignorance, a few of their fellow countrymen began pulling pranks on these traditionalists. The medieval Flemish poet, Eduard de Dene, once penned a poem detailing one of these pranks. He writes about a lord who sends one of his servants to run a “fool’s” errand for him. The servant quickly realizes that his errand has no purpose and that he has been duped by his lord. These types of aimless errands grew in popularity and persisted throughout the 20th century.
In honor of the goddess, Cybele, a Roman cult threw a festival called “Hilaria.” This festival was celebrated the day after the vernal equinox, which marked the end of the gloomy days of winter.
Those who participated in Hilaria would amuse themselves by dressing up in various costumes, often pretending to be someone they were not. By means of their disguises, the participants fooled others into thinking they were members of the magistrate or government as a way to criticize those in authority. This practice of masquerading is thought to be the origin of April Fool’s Day by many modern historians, according to History.com.
A prank in itself
Our final theory dates back to the fourth century during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine. The story goes that a group of court jesters approached Constantine and jokingly asked the emperor to place one of them on his throne for a day. Constantine agreed to their offer and placed a jester by the name of Kugel on the throne. Kugel signed a law saying that his single day on the throne would always be a day of jesting and joking. Thus, we have April Fool’s Day.
Here is the only issue with this origin story: it was an April Fool’s joke itself.
For a brief period of time in 1983, Professor Joseph Boskin of Boston University was the center of the media’s attention. According to his university, Boskin was asked by a reporter to offer some insight into the origin of April Fool’s Day. After telling the reporter he could be of no help, the reporter continued pressing Boskin. In a moment of spontaneous jesting, Boskin decided he would make up a story to get this reporter off his back. At that moment, the Kugel theory was born.
Many papers printed the story and readers all around the country believed Baskin’s new proposition. Soon enough, the professor was receiving calls for interviews and was even requested by the Today Show to expound upon his idea. While the media was going crazy over this story, Boskin was utilizing the frenzy to teach his students a lesson in his Media and Social Change course.
Baskin soon revealed that his claim was a deliberate hoax, and the Associated Press retracted the story. The most reputable source for journalism had fallen for one of the most large-scale April Fool’s pranks ever.
Now that we have covered various theories concerning the origins of April Fool’s Day, I urge you to engage in the tradition of this unconventional holiday. Small pranks and funny jokes will always make someone smile, and there is no such thing as an overabundance of joy in our lives.