“The first of April, some do say, is set apart for All Fool’s Day. But why people call it so, nor I, nor themselves do know. But on this day are people sent on purpose of pure merriment.”
Poor Robin’s Almanac, 1760
As April 1 is now here, the minds of local pranksters are without a doubt already beginning to churn. They’re the ones who will be grinning bigger than Dallas, Texas that day.
They will eagerly assess a room for the person gullible enough to fall for something like “Hey, your shoelaces are untied.” Then they’ll chuckle “April Fool. Ha-ha-ha.”
The practices associated with All Fool’s Day are easy to learn even among the very young. However, the origin of this so-called holiday remains somewhat of a mystery. A little research revealed one theory claims it dates back to 16th century France. In France the start of the new year was observed on April 1 and was celebrated much like our New Year’s Eve with parties lasting into the wee hours of the New Year. In the late 1500s Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar which was adopted by the king. The pope’s calendar moved the beginning of the year from April 1 to January 1. Some citizens, however, failed to adhere to the new calendar year. Some were die-hard traditionalists who resisted change. Others didn’t learn of the move because of inadequate communication channels in those days.
Those who clung to the April New Year were scoffed at as fools. People sent them fake party invitations, gag gifts and pulled pranks on them. They would send them on a “fool’s errand” or attempt to convince them something false was true. The victims of such jokes were known as “Poisson d’avril” among the French which translates as April Fish (a young fish easily hooked or caught). Napoleon I acquired the nickname “Poisson d’avril” when he married Marie-Louise of Austria on the first of April in 1810.
All Fool’s Day pranks and the good nature joviality with which they were delivered spread from France to England and across Europe. In Scotland the occasion became a two-day event called April Gowk. April is the time of year when the cuckoo comes. Gowk is the Scottish word for cuckoo; therefore, the victim of any prank is called a gowk.
The British brought the custom to America. Its observance has withstood the test of time and has brought much laughter to school children as well as to adults. The best April Fool tricks are the ones in which everyone laughs including the jester’s victim.
Like the late great humorist Mark Twain once said, “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”