The History of April Fools’ Day

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Bonus April Fools’ Day Facts:

  • The oldest known “April Fools’ Day” type tradition, Sizdah Bedar, can be found in Iran and has been going on since around 500 BC.  The event is simply a ceremony of sorts where people go spend the day outside and have a picnic.  It is also traditional for people to play pranks on one another during the day.  This celebration usually happens on April 1st, but can occasionally occur on April 2nd.
  • April Fish!  In certain countries, such as Belgium, France, and Italy, it is a tradition, particularly among children, to try to tape little fish-cutouts on people’s backs without them knowing and then shout “April Fish!” (obviously not in English ;-)).  The earliest reference to “April Fish” seems to be from around the 16th century from Eloy d’Amerval, a French poet.
  • Another somewhat much less wide-spread Flemish tradition on April 1st is for children to attempt to lock teachers and parents out or rooms and buildings.  In order to get in, the adults must make promises to give the children candy or some other treat until the children are satisfied and let them in.
  • Some say that the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, published in 1392, show the first reference to April 1st foolishness. (Obviously from the above Sizdah Bedar reference, we know this isn’t true.)  Specifically, those who purport this are referencing the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” where he appears to say “March 32”, which would mean April 1st.  However, most scholars believe this was a result of a copying error and what was actually meant was 32 days after the beginning of April, so referring to the anniversary of when King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia became engaged (May 2nd).
  • December 28th used to be a sort of April Fools’ Day.  This was the date of the Medieval Feast of Fools, where children would get together and elect mock religious figures, such as a pope, bishops, and the like.  They’d then give them designations like “The Archbishop of Dolts” and “The Pope of Fools”.  The whole act was supposed to more or less just be a parody of the actual clergy.  Needless to say, the church on the whole wasn’t pleased with this tradition and did their best to quell it, often with little success.  When they couldn’t get rid of it immediately, they simply then ignored it and excluded it from most official records of the church.  This policy of ignoring it ended in 1431 when it was officially forbidden by the Council of Basel.

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