History, Why do we

Why do we have April Fools Day?

Why do we have April Fools Day?

A brief history of the reason we hold April Fools’ Day

Image credit: New Africa/Shutterstock.com

April Fools’ Day, sometimes known as All Fools’ Day, is an annual celebration in western society. It’s observed on the 1st of April and involves playing harmless pranks or practical jokes on family, friends, and colleagues. The pranksters will eventually expose their actions by shouting “April fool” at the recipient. It is them that then becomes known as an ‘April fool’. By tradition, the stunt must be performed before 12 noon, or it’s the pranksters themselves who then become the April Fools.

An Uncertain Origin

However, the origins of April Fools’ Day tomfoolery are still uncertain. One of the two main theories is that it started out as a celebration related to the changing of the seasons. The other is that it stemmed from the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by Britain in 1752. Some have linked the origins of April Fools’ Day to the Roman festival of Hilaria. This was celebrated at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.

Early cultures, including those as diverse as Roman and Hindu, celebrated New Year’s Day on or around 1 April. This was because it closely followed the vernal equinox on the 20th or 21st March. In the Northern Hemisphere, it also signalled the end of winter and the old year.  Up until late medieval times, much of Europe celebrated the ‘Feast of Annunciation’ on 25 March. This was also the beginning of the New Year.

Influence of the Gregorian Calander

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII gave the order for his Gregorian calendar to replace the old Julian calendar across the Catholic world. The new calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on the 1st of January. France adopted the new schedule almost immediately. However, some people refused to accept or were ignorant of the new calendar and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on 1 April. These traditionalists were viewed as being a little dim-witted by the rest of the population. Thus, as 1 April came round, the enlightened majority would play tricks on the backward thinkers. Eventually, the practice spread throughout the rest of Europe.

However, this account of how April Fools’ Day may have started is a little problematic. It doesn’t really explain the spread of April Fools’ Day from France to other European countries. Furthermore, the Gregorian calendar was not adopted by Britain until 1752. However, by that time it is well documented that April Fools’ Day was already well established in the country.

Further confusing the issue is the fact that there are many countries that traditionally hold an equivalent day of silliness but on a different date from 1 April. For instance, 28 December is the day when pranks are played across Spain, much of Latin America, and the Philippines. The date is also a Christian day of celebration known as the “Day of the Holy Innocents”. Many countries across the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Israel, and Syria, also have a comparable day to April Fools’ Day.


Header image credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

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