To Honor this Day of Fools

Apr 1, 2009 | hilarity

Curious about the origins of April Fool’s Day, I found this site.

Here’s a few things I found particularly interesting –

The Calendar-Change Theory
The most popular theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the French calendar reform of the sixteenth century.

The theory goes like this: In 1564 France reformed its calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Those who failed to keep up with the change, who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so the tradition was born.

Renewal Festivals

Almost every culture in the world has some kind of festival in the first months of the year to celebrate the end of winter and the return of spring. Anthropologists call these “renewal festivals.” Often they involve ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule. The wearing of disguises is common. People play pranks on friends and strangers. The social order is temporarily inverted. Servants might get to order around masters, or children challenge the authority of parents and teachers. However, the disorder is always bounded within a strict timeframe, and tensions are defused with laughter and comedy. The social order is symbolically challenged, but then restored, reaffirming the stability of the society, just as the cold months of winter temporarily challenge biological life, and yet the cycle of life continues, returning with the spring.

April Fool’s Day has all the characteristics of a renewal festival. For one day forms of behavior that are normally not allowed (lying, deception, playing pranks) become acceptable, and yet the disorder is bounded within a strict timeframe. Traditionally, no pranks are supposed to be played after 12 o’clock noon of the first. Social hierarchies and tensions are exposed, but hostility is defused with laughter.

For as long as people have been speculating about April Fool’s Day, they have noticed the similarities between it and other springtime “renewal” festivals. Many historians have theorized that April Fool’s Day evolved directly out of some such festival practiced in ancient times. A direct connection between April Fool’s Day and any of the Roman-era festivals seems unlikely, though it is quite possible that the tradition evolved out of a medieval festival held around the time of the Vernal equinox (such as the New Year’s festivals at the end of March, as discussed above). Nevertheless, there is no agreement about which festival the tradition of April Foolery developed out of. Below is a list of some of the festivals that have most frequently been suggested as its forerunners.

The Saturnalia
The Saturnalia, by Antoine-François Callet The Saturnalia was a Roman winter festival observed at the end of December. It involved dancing, drinking, and general merrymaking. People exchanged gifts, slaves were allowed to pretend that they ruled their masters, and a mock king, the Saturnalicius princeps (or Lord of Misrule), reigned for the day. By the fourth century AD the Saturnalia had transformed into a January 1 New Year’s Day celebration, and many of its traditions were incorporated into the observance of Christmas.


In late March the Romans honored the resurrection of Attis, son of the Great Mother Cybele, with the Hilaria celebration. This involved rejoicing and the donning of disguises.

Further afield in India, there was Holi, known as the festival of color, during which street celebrants threw colored powder and water at each other. This holiday was held on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Phalguna (usually the end of February or the beginning of March).

Feast of Fools

The medieval Festus Fatuorum (Feast of Fools) evolved out of the Saturnalia. On this day celebrants elected a Lord of Misrule and parodied church rituals, often in extremely blasphemous ways. The Church condemned the custom, but had little luck eradicating it despite frequent decrees forbidding it. It endured from the fifth century until the sixteenth century.

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For me, my parents are a good reminder to try to not take things seriously. Each of them has a distinct sense of humor that I’m lucky enough to have both of. One of the main reasons I married Oscar is because he can make a joke out of most anything. Our dog Leela, well, clearly, she’s good for a laugh, too.

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.
– Mark Twain