You’re way beyond the old salt-on-the-toothbrush trick. Last year you really went there with the Saran wrap under the toilet seat bit. It’s your goal to up the ante every time your favorite funny holiday comes around, but how did April Fools’ Day start, anyway?
Those of you who hate the holiday — and there are at least as many of you as there are who love the chance to pull some pranks — are probably wondering the same thing for completely different reasons.
So, how did April Fools’ Day start?
Well, sorry for those of you looking to blame someone for the inconvenient impishness, there’s really no clear answer to how did April Fools’ Day start? There are several theories (none of which seem like they could be an April Fools’ Day joke themselves), so you might as well pick whichever one appeals to you the most.
For the record, pulling practical jokes doesn’t seem to have been popularized until April 1, 1700, according to History.com. It was the 18th century that saw the tradition spread around Britain, with Scotland even celebrating a two-day event of sending poor gullible people on pointless or even phony errands. But what about the very beginning?
Some scholars point to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as the source of these silly traditions. That’s tracing it all the way back to 1392, and sort of makes you wonder how we haven’t progressed beyond the made-you-look bit yet. One of the tales in this collection, called “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” emphasizes foolishness and would seem to be the specific story to blame.
The mock-heroic tale is set on “March 32,” which is either an embarrassing typo (some scholars subscribe to this idea) or a playful way to say April 1. Anyone who takes a little too long to realize that this is a fictitious date and referring, instead, to the following month could be seen as an April fool.
The Gregorian calendar once wasn’t the go-to of the Americas or Europe. Back in the day, the Julian calendar was the cardinal calendar, and the two calendars don’t exactly see eye-to-eye about when we move over into a new year. This version of the answer to the question how did April Fools’ Day start points to this difference.
The story goes that back in the 1500s in France when the people were making the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, some people got a little haughty about the swap. The Julian calendar marks the end of the year at the time the Gregorian calendar considers the beginning of April. Those who didn’t adapt too well to the switch, forgetting that April 1 was not in fact the new year anymore, were ridiculed as April fools by those who adopted the new calendar quickly.
Blame the weather
The last theory is hopefully one that we won’t run into this year: It claims that the idea of April Fools’ Day is simply inspired by the volatile weather of the transition into Spring. Since the change of seasons is unpredictable, the weather is able to catch almost everyone off guard. Which means that no matter how you dress, you’re probably going to look foolish. Especially those of you who forgot your umbrella.
Don’t worry, there isn’t a quiz. When it comes to answering the question how did April Fools’ Day start, all you really need to know is that it did — and to not use your toothbrush on April 1 without rinsing it thoroughly first.