There are so many theories as to why April First is considered a day to play tricks that I could make up a new one, call it historical fact, and it would probably be believed for years before anyone realized I was joking.
This did indeed happen in 1983.
Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University, put forth a plausible story about Emperor Constantine and a jester named Kugel. Kugel, being a fool, said he could run the empire much better than Constantine. Constantine, thinking this hilarious, made a day of absurdity an annual event. Prof Boskin stated “In those times fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.”
Now, Prof Boskin was from Boston University. He was a professor of history. He must have known what he was talking about. At least, this was the thinking of a writer at the Associated Press, who proceeded to write up a nice article that was reprinted by many newspapers. A few weeks went by before the AP realized Prof Boskin had pulled one over on them.
The most plausible and excepted explanation goes back to the days of the Julian Calendar, adopted in 45 BC by Julius Caesar. This calendar had April being the first month, which explains why September, October, November and December are misnamed as the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months. In the Julian Calendar New Year’s Day was celebrated anywhere from March 25th to April 1st, sometimes for the entire week.
On February 24th, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar, now known as the Gregorian or Western Calendar. This took centuries to be adopted by the civilized world, what with the stubbornness of some people and others just having no good communication system. Anyone still celebrating New Year’s Day on April First was labeled a fool by those who knew better, and were subjected to ridicule and practical jokes.
But before the change in calendars, there was the Roman celebrations of Hilaria, to celebrate the Vernal Equinox. The term hilaria could be used for any day of rejoicing, but the Hilaria Matris Deûm was celebrated on the eighth day before the first of April, or March 25th. This was a celebration of Cybele, the mother of the gods. There were many parts to this celebration, one of the most important being a masquerade in which people not only dressed up in disguise, but went to great lengths to imitate the real life people of their masks.
Like most holidays, April Fool’s Day has come to mean something different to us in modern times than it did whenever or however it started. Even in different countries it is celebrated as uniquely as the countries themselves.
In Scotland, April Fools lasts for two days, one known as ‘Taily day’, and more often than not the jokes centers around one’s hind section. If you ever wonder who first thought up the original ‘Kick Me’ sign, it was probably a Scot.
An “April fish” is young, and is considered to be very easily caught. In Victorian times, pretty postcards were exchanged, decorated with fish and flowers, and the day was seen as a celebration of friendship.
In Iran you can find people playing jokes on one another on the 13th day of the Persian calendar. This started as far back as 536 BC, but take a guess as to what day that corresponds to in the Western calendar? April 1st. Or I could be only kidding.